Day 2 – 69.4 miles

What is there to say? a little earthly desire towards the wild world around me. Tempt me in your beauty, blue water, opaque blue, the blue of opals flowing from the mountains snow peaked waterfalls, all coming down in waves and droves, all coming together and pouring towards the ocean, opening up to other waves and rivulets.

Rivers I suppose have become a theme in everyone’s lives, not mine alone, the flow, pulsatile or weak irregardless, pulling ever steady down down down.

What can be said for today? This far my expectations have been exceeded. The pure water of the Skagit River curved and weaved along our ride today. First struck by its unfamiliarity, more accustomed to the darkness and greenness of the rivers of our own New England waters, I was caught off guard by the true teal nature of this, steady, heaving, healthy, moving gallons upon gallons, many miles and miles an hour.

We, trying on our newly accustomed identities, acting and looking like cyclists, donned our new aquired uniforms and headed along route 20 mostly, with turns and caresses into the countryside, healthy levels plains bordered by mountains on both sides. The shoddy country homes we rode by were dwarfed by the richness of the landscape itself, the natural capitol far surpassing that which could be added to it. Driving by a building lot, 49,000$ for an acre, a bit less than CT perhaps, I was struck by the arbitrary nature of it all, for although CT’s subtle rolling hills have found a place in my heart as my own countryside, the grandeur of the present surroundings was certainly not to be valued less, the depth of the soil perhaps greater, the height of the trees larger, and with their width larger as well. For a brief moment I had a chance to sit upon the stump of one that had been felled, and it would have easily encased me in its being, if it had still been standing. There is a fairytale quality to this landscape, the moss laden towering trees, the snow peaked mountains and the endless flowering blackberry and thimbleberry brambles lining the roads, and yet the reality of it makes it very matter of fact. But, the fact of its existence does not lose the touch of magic that comes with its discovery. It is good to know that it exists, that places like this exist. That there are people who call this place their home. But it is not my home for sure.

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4:40 am

In these wee hours of the morning, it begins, the wheels turning first in my mind as I stare at the ceiling above me, contemplating the coming day. So much anticipation, that it all has begun, a faint spring of nervousness has met me, many questions entering my brain, namely can we actually do this…?. From here, a series of snow tipped mountains dot the eastern horizon, expansive in its form, the landscape here spreading out in a way that I have been quite unfamiliar with. But besides this, and the layered clouds reflecting all the layers of heaven and colors there forth, most seems most familiar, the box chain stores, the plants themselves, perhaps traveling west along with their human counterparts, the lupine and pines, or perhaps traveling of their own accord over time, according to their own dispersal and volition. As the others lay sleeping still, preparing in their own way for the coming day, I can offer up perhaps a small prayer, to whatever God or gods may be, that we are kept safe upon our travels, that luck follows preparation and that good fortune follows an attentive ear to the instincts that offer up their own advice for our preservation, that our bodies be strong and hearty, our minds be sharp, and our vehicles, the swords with which we plan to make this one swift fell slice be up to the task before them.

 

 


In reflection of the first day of our travels, I can say that it was a good beginning, the weather crisp and fresh, the sun just enough to keep the spirits bright, a good picture perhaps of the northwest coast, hills and pines, well kept houses, not large in size, but with yards neatly landscaped, colorful and sprite, along the salty coast, a nice ocean air present, expansive salt flats, a oil refinery in the distance, and all of the beauty and eyesores coexisting in neutral harmony. The trip was without incident, a good 28 mile beginning, a chance to get familiar with our new set-ups, replete with the weight we will be carrying with us as we go. Sonali and Joe did a good job of naviating a somewhat non-linear series of directions and we made it back in a reasonable amount of time, over bridges and by large, several hundred acre farms of blueberries and strawberries.

Following our trip we took a chance to check out one of the places we had been hoping to see on our journey, a several acre public park in seattle landscaped entirely with edible plants, so we took our rental car, for the last time we would drive over the next two months, down to check out the Beacon Hill Food Forest. As it worked out, on this day in particular, there was a gatherng at the park, with tours and presentations. We arrived a bit late for all of the hoop-la, but managed to talk to one of the designers of the park and get a look around at the space. He spoke to us about the creation of the park, the challenges and successes, and that six years in, the park had grown both in popularity and participation. Each month now, once month, they had an eager group of over one hundred volunteers come together and work on the park. They were getting ready, over the course of the next year to expand it to meet the demand of the interest of the local residents. The park overlooked the Seattle skyline. It was an interesting mix of managed and unkempt, fruit trees beginning to produce, an array of patches of blackberry brambles and currants, an herbacous layer of sages and strawberries, all folded amongst each other like a forest ecosystem, with walking paths through and among them.

We look forward to a good 60 mile ride tomorrow.

Chapter 1 – Washington

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”  – Miguel de Cervantes

As actors in this theatre of the absurd, it is only fitting that we take on tasks both monumental and profoundly arbitrary in our quests for the inherent truths and goodnesses of mankind. To meet a tree, tree to tree, a rock rock to rock, a wave, wave to wave, to reflect upon the impermanent and surpassing beauty that surrounds us, and in light of our own imperfection, contemplate the likeness of our own.

We take off on our quest in a manner fitting of beginnings, heading eastward towards the rising sun, each morning waking more eastward than the last, heading towards a home that will be different to the degree that we have changed upon our return. If our journey ends in peril, let it be a glorious peril, one fitting of fables and legends, perhaps a cautionary tale, and if in success, perhaps a testament to another strange and small step that humans have taken in the test of their hubris against the raw and barren boundaries that designate a life.

So much potential exists in the energy around us, so much life unfolding, so much hope in the hearts of youth and old alike, brimming with the unbridled individualism and tenacity that defines the American spirit, or the human spirit perhaps, so much life in the living, not easily to be dimmed. This is what we have come here to find, a renewed sense of self amongst the firs and pines, a slow enough adventure to be able to talk to our fellow man without the dim hum of machinery separating our conversation, a piece of glass holding back our sense of personhood from the world that knows itself in the same way that we do, and as such already, we have not been disappointed.

I feel a renewed sense of childhood, holding things both prolific and transient, unfathomable and at the same time within our grasp. Sometimes I feel as though I could have just as easily have been a stone, and not move for ten thousand years, or a tree gently willowing in the wind, watching the sun rise and set over the same square feet of earth, grounded as it may be, but for now, as a human being, with two legs that can turn beneath me, if I cannot live for a thousand years, perhaps I can travel far and wide, to see a thousand of miles of this brave and wild country, to get to know it as my own, a sprawling wasteland and utopia, one layered atop the other, from sea to shining sea. I’d like to see a thin slice of its vast entirety, feel it shrink inside of my hands, hold it close to my heart, and feel the pulse of the earth beneath me.

I can only tell a small part of this story, for only a small part of it is my own. The rest is yours, all of yours, for we do share a common fate, in all of our disjunct complexities, in all of our costs and burdens, in all of the weights we weigh upon each other, the land we share, milking and wooing our individual destinies out of a common cloth. I think collectively we are still deciding what it means to be American, and what it means to be a human being, reflecting on the strange paradox of our own existence. There are moments when it all coalesces around a certain center, and we give tremendous thanks for all of the energy that exists in the world, and just as easily, times when we feel it all slip away and the emptiness that can just as easily be present, claim its own.

As a matter of formality, perhaps something could be said about the meat and bones of it, about the course that ought to be taken, the roads specifically, the food and water and all else that will be witnessed in the coming days, and this will fall into place as it may, for a story knows itself only in its telling, and neither I nor you can be too sure which words will choose themselves. But unfold it will, in its due course, in accordance with the quick and changing weather, but for now, all stands in the wings, all waits to be expressed, all holds itself dainty, clean and starched, the linen and personalities alike. This then is those days, when all is well, a picture of idyllic idle-ism, a slowly inhaled breath, our youth begging the world for adventure, that we may take to the road, the pavement, our last thread of our collective commons, in the modern search for an age old quest for enlightenment perhaps, or if that too lofty a goal, a more sturdy frame upon our return.

Why Fruit Trees?

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” – Masanobu Fukuoka

Gandhi once spoke about crossing a desert of existentialism in his youth, and upon his return, finding meaning once again in the life around him, his fellow human beings and a sense of what ought to be worked for in his life. I feel as though I can relate to his struggle with this, perhaps many of us do, and yet, after a period of time, at a certain age I suppose I decided that if I was a human being, I was going to try to be the most human human being that I could be. I did not choose this body, or this life, or this time in which I was born, but if I was to be gifted with them, I may as well live them to the most vibrant possible avenues I could imagine, to flesh out the human experience to its most human, embrace the fact that I am a sentient primate, walking around in a structured world, lost somewhere between instincts and institutions, trying to keep myself fed and happy and with some sense of meaning amongst all of the global discord.

Perhaps many people also struggle to greater or lesser degrees with how much they are willing to domesticate themselves to the turning and passing whims of etiquette and norms for the sake of safety and stability, carrying on the trajectories of culture with the faith that at present the ways we collectively carry out things are the best possible ways of doing them. In doing so, we balance how much we trust our own selves, our truth and resonance with the response and reflections of others, the collective consciousness, culture, and carry it on both in deliberate and subtle ways.

There is a certain sense of discord in any deviation from the norm, the edges themselves being the most vulnerable, even though they tend to be prolific and interesting in their own right. But these are spaces that it is sometimes necessary to occupy, particularly when the center of culture is off-center, when the trajectories of norms are not based on humanist values but rather some conglomeration of corporate notions of what we want, and the edge itself represents a more grounded, humanist, healthy life, integrated into the landscapes we occupy unknowingly behind our screens and walls and windows.

Why fruit trees? It’s not really about the fruit trees, in and of themselves, and yet in the same breath they serve as a perfectly tangible beautiful metaphor, a hand held by the world around us that we have become illiterate to, an opportunity to birth a culture that has a relation to time and place, timeless places, ones we create, where being a primate and a sentient, structured, modern man and woman can exist in relation in a way that is meaningful. We have not outgrown our bodies, we have not jumped out of our skin and transferred our brains into the eternal internet cybersphere. We are human beings, and as such, why not embrace what it means to be a human being?

We descend from frugivorous (fruit-eating) apes, dangling amongst the limbs of trees, and to this day, this concept represents a sort of childlike bliss that is hard not to smile imagining ourselves doing. The Western European creation story, that of the garden of Eden, a paradise of fruit trees that we have been cast out of, has been retold for generations with a wistful imagination. We focus generally on the story in terms of parable and morals, but perhaps a greater story is why the metaphor itself holds so much weight, that we as human beings feel a sense of co-evolutionary relationship with fruit trees, our brains evolving in relation to our food search amongst them, as patchy foragers mapping the time and place of each newly ripening tree as it would in its cyclical yearly rhythms, making sure we arrived there just as it was ripening and not a day earlier or later over vast areas of land.

This perhaps underlies part of the power of the concept of a fruit tree as a metaphor, but more so even than this, I feel as though a good fruit tree, one that produces fruit without too much maintenance and whose only responsibility to it is to pick the fruit when it is ripe, offers a sense of endless flow of production that is akin only to unconditional love, on par with metaphors like sunshine and rivers, giving and never asking for anything in return. This is the power of a fruit tree, that once planted it can potentially produce for generations, representing not only the intentions of the planter but that of the society that allows it and of the natural world at large, that nature itself allows for the generosity of the means by which we can achieve and maintain our existence in a way that does not jar with our instincts in such challenging ways as most of the rest of modernity. This is the power of a fruit tree, and if planted in public spaces, available to all who walk by, we can start to walk back against the grain of the increasing privatization that has been the march of civilization, re-civilize ourselves in a way that does not take human inequality for granted, deciding on several simple ethics, that we will care about each other, care about the earth, and work to ensure that everyone has equity, with community spaces reflecting such ideals.

Whenever we talk of sharing food on public land we inevitably end up in the discussion of the tragedy of the commons, and a debate of human nature, human greed and selfishness ensues, but perhaps what is left out of this discussion is the relation of the agricultural system itself which is being shared. If we are collectively grazing animals on a piece of land, we can overgraze it by adding more animals, if we are fishing the oceans collectively, more ships can overfish the ocean, but to some degree, small local orchards in public parks and schools are different because once you have picked all of the fruit off of a tree, you must wait until the next year. You cannot keep picking the tree, degrading it over time. Picking the fruit off a tree does not decrease the health of the tree and in fact it is the goal of the tree, to some extent, to have its fruit be picked and seeds be spread to new and novel places. When we interact with the world in this manner, it changes the way we relate to it, and perhaps possibly also to each other as a reflection of that.

When we look back on the history of the land that we now inhabit, the natural history, the land before European colonization, the forests around us were not the unkept new growth forests that they are today, but rather, were more akin to wild orchards of fruit and nut producing trees, for both human food and wild life fodder, to support the populations of deer and moose and woodland bison, in addition to the humans who managed them. This concept was lost upon their European counterparts, who imagined that this was simply the natural state of the forests here, marveling at the vast swaths of chestnut, hazelnut, beech, oak trees, persimmons, juneberries, paw paws and blackberries among others. The trees were spaced enough for sunlight to come through, allowing grass for grazing to occur underneath, and the resulting eco-system was a productive forest ecosystem supporting animals and humans alike, which supplemented the corn beans and squash annual agriculture. This is the natural history our forests, that we have so conveniently built our own vision of reality on top of and around, largely ignoring them like wallpaper at present.

In recognizing the history of this place, and trying to work towards a healthy culture of our own, is it not possible to incorporate parts of this story into our own, learning from the landscape, what can potentially exist and contribute to our culture?

This, then, therefore begins to scratch the surface of ‘why fruit trees?’ and what they can represent. Part of the of the beauty of it is that I could go on about the philosophy and science and implications of it all, or I could say nothing at all, and a fresh fruit, hanging ripe on the tree for a hand to pick would still be equally meaningful to any human being who came across it. Health should not be a chore, an act of discipline, a path outside of the mainstream that is taken despite of an unhealthy world, and if we create healthy environments, healthy cultures, health promoting landscapes, it need not be.

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Prologue

Of all adventures great and small, all begin in some arbitrary beginning, designated as such in the eyes of the teller, and thus, this is our own, in the year 2017, a number only in relation to those before and after. In our small square of a universe it is another beginning, places such as we have all been before. Let us step back and give a certain sense of gratitude for all that has gotten us to this particular one, for so much has gone into our arrival at this arbitrary present, conscious and unconscious, the improbableness of our own existence but one factor in a myriad of others. None-the-less the universe has found us here, and you the reader as well.

We thank you for your audience to our story and hope that it offers you in your own story some sense of humanism, perhaps, or morals with which to add to your own, or if not that, mild amusement at our own follies and misunderstandings; we will accept this as a meaningful interaction, for we are very less than perfect, this we understand, less than learned, and less than wise, but none-the-less we shall persist, and perhaps along the course of our endeavors, pick up some of the aforementioned attributes along the way.

Beginnings can be beautiful eyes to behold and be held in, and as such, we recognize the cusp of potential that they represent, the untarnished, yet to be tarnished pure visceral potential that is breathed into the possibility that perhaps a thin line could be drawn from where we are to all the treasures of the world, particularly the ones that cannot be held, which are still within our grasp, or at least within arms length. Such is the hope that is imbued in all youth, and one we once again find ourselves embracing. Every age can entertain such endeavors, and the present one bears no exception. The world is a large, a very large place, and there is plenty to maintain the curiosity of fools and philosophers alike. We are not sure which ones we are, perhaps a touch of both and the better for it. This can be said, and more than this not much, no wisdom yet to share, no hardship except that which we recall from past lives lived, both recent and before, and all have shed themselves in this moment.

With that, we give gratitude to all those who have attempted and completed this endeavor before, to all of the brilliant and caring individuals who have shown support in their meandering lives to support us in our own, and we hope that in our own unique ways we can offer an equal support to yours in time, for the karma of the universe has shown kindness upon our adventure and we would be remiss to remain fat with the generosity bestowed upon us, rather better to remain thin and take only what one needs, be it money or kindness or attention, and rather reflect back on the eyes of the beholder their own beauty, that is the gift of the true artist, perhaps, that is what can be said for all of it. This and more, not much, we suppose.