There is a humourous anecdote I recall from years ago, where a somewhat puzzled child asks their father why Grandma spends such a lot of time reading just that one book. “It’s the bible, son, there are lots of lessons for us all in there.” A beam of enlightenment crosses the child’s face; “Oh, I understand, now, thanks; I guess she must be swotting up for her finals !”
There are sights that immediately tug at the heartstrings for many people, perhaps more than we imagine. To my mind, a sight of the open road is a symbol of freedom, of potential; of the choice to go or to stay, to feel that one’s personal space extends beyond the horizon. This last sensation is commonplace among native peoples the world over, but I encountered it first among the Sami inhabitants of Northern Scandinavia.
In India there are uncountable religious festivals, drawing in devotees, pilgrims and other people from all walks of life, in uncountable numbers. One such is encountered at Pushkar, in Rajasthan, a desert state. From all over India and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands gather at the full moon in November, around a temple dedicated to Brahma, the creator in Indian cosmology. It is said to be the only such temple in all India, and is sited in the centre of the village.
Do not be mistaken here; it is not begging as a western-bred assumption might conclude. This is Zaqat, one of the principal duties of all Muslims, to behave charitably toward those in need. It requires a person to give directly to those in need and is a mainstay for elderly people of the community who may find themselves in leaner times. The older man is not a beggar, he is aware of that, and is aware that it is his right to expect support. For his side, the shopkeeper is aware that his obligations include giving a percentage of his income directly to those in need, and that he receives blessings for his act.
Appearing much like a sprite, Durga Das was a willing helper and camel driver on a trip I took through the villages of Northern Rajasthan. We were following the old desert tracks from near to Bikaner the seat of a Princely State, to Jaisalmer, another fairytale turreted fortress town on the edge of India’s Thar desert.
A tranquil rural scene in Sweden; in this bucolic setting, I formed several striking memories. The best was from the shed in the background; it was the location of a nest from where a newly fledged Pied Wagtail fluttered down and settled on my hand for a few minutes. The most surreal was to open the tent flap on a misty morning with the sun breaking through on the magnificent Harley Davidson in the picture. How it could have arrived there silently in the night was baffling, and there was no-one around to explain it. Other aspects of Tannas (in Jamtland), provided painful lessons.
I saw an ad in The Guardian saying “Tour guide / driver wanted urgently.” This was like a nugget to an Alaska goldpanner.
“Texas always seemed so big, but you know you’re in the largest state in the Union when you’re anchored down in Anchorage”
(song by Michelle Shocked, theme to this summer, sung by Mary McCarthy)
Lumpy air buffeted the plane as we coasted over a choppy looking sea and threaded between snowy peaks toward our landing. This was the land that Jack London had brought alive for generations of armchair adventurers; land that offered promise, a sanctuary, a new start for so many, and literally a dead-end for as many more.