Re: Border

I have donated to ‘Medicine Sans Frontier’. In English this band of brave men and women are called Doctors Without Borders. They believe bordered countries prevent medical equity. Some human issues are borderless. My wife loves to suggest: For the unity of all human kind we need an attitude of People Without Borders.

I’m fascinated by how borders are created. On the desktop map I had in my room as a youth, I would skate my finger through Germany, France and Spain on my way to Italy. My digits had no need for a passport as I straddled the 49th Parallel, testing the waters on the U.S. side of the continent. I’d love my family’s once a year camping trip to Maine as much for the thrill of crossing the border into New York State.

After one particular trip to the seaside we returned to Canada via the New Hampshire forests. It wasn’t our usual route since it took an extra day and Dad only had so much holiday time. It was Mom’s idea since she had always wanted to see Lake Champlain so a route was planned that included a night at White Mountain National Forest. While the camp was being set up I was told to monitor my younger sister as she rambled through the hardwoods. She found a turtle! It was about a quarter her size as I recall, so it took the two of us to carry it back to our site. Much oohing and aahing ensued. We constructed a sort of corral out of firewood for the hapless creature. I think my folks were suspecting Mr. Tortoise would be gone by morning but he had retreated into his shell so now what to do? My sister said, ‘please, please’ so arrangements were made for his transport accommodations: A bed of leaves inside our large metal Coleman cooler which was always placed in the middle of the back bench seat of our Plymouth to separate the siblings. As we came up to the border crossing Mom repeated the warnings to “Look straight ahead. Don’t say anything. Under no circumstances open the cooler.” At the customs gate I kept thinking the words, Turtle, Turtle, Turtle with such intensity that I was sure I was yelling them out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t speak (although several years later while at a similar checkpoint, family lore has it that I told the border guard my name was Mr. Wetsuit on account of the undeclared contraband I had bought with my life savings). Back at the apartment, Dad put the home made car-top carrier on one end of our balcony and filled it with leaves, fashioning a wee pond from an old metal basin and our Mr. Turtle seemed happy. Until the first winter frost came.

Natural or man-made borders exist and more boundaries are created every day in the belief that we can keep things out, or keep things more safe within. Yet here we are on a finite spinning ball bordered by a thin atmosphere surrounded by space.

Re: Settle

I settle into my favourite chair as I write this. I like the fact that I chose to settle in this part of the world. My journey, both geographical and metaphorical, was not unlike the first western white folk who settled into their covered wagons to look for newness in a promising land. I wasn’t nearly as bold as the First Peoples who ventured across the Bering Straight either, but I like to think I share their curiosity.

Sediment settles to the bottom through a fluid. That’s a movement that is the result of gravity not of willpower. And that may be why the notion of settling has gotten such a bad rap. I could have had that job, relationship, friend, pet, apartment, lifestyle or meal but I settled for this one instead. The implication is that you took the lazy way out and ended up with something less. Yet those people who seek out a new place to live or think, do so for very definite reasons. It’s a very willful decision to leave what you know for the risk of the unknown. To find a new place to settle requires a gravitas that only comes when options are weighed and hope is filed for another day.

I remember a discussion with my parents regarding my decision to marry. My mother and father had different questions to ask. I brought them comfort with my answers. I felt they basically wanted to know if I was going to find comfort with the woman I had chosen to be my wife. Comfort, security, love, promise, and the idea that I was going to settle down didn’t sound boring to me; it sounded like heaven. I clearly remember my mother rising from the discussion table with resolve, declaring, “That’s settled then.”

Settlements come in all forms and figurations. They can involve formal contracts or the wink of an eye, they can be held in a moment or transcend lifetimes. They can include a subtle willingness to go along for now, or acknowledge a deep acceptance of something that will never change.

The other day after a meal at a restaurant I asked the waiter, “Can I settle the bill please?” My wife always teases me about my formal nature and even this archaic phrase, slipping out of my mouth so fluidly, surprised me. After the meal is eaten, after the words have been spoken, when the party is over, there is an accounting that must take place. Ultimately, things must be settled before a decision to move on can be made.

Sometimes it feels that we are weighed down so much by our grief or our wishful thinking, that sinking to the bottom is guaranteed. Yet a person is not a speck of sediment. We are a complex mix of our past, with desires for the future, trying to make something of our present. We are dealing with daily memories of loss while maintaining a confidence that we can continue to make valid, positive decisions.

Despite the fact of gravity, I believe we can always choose to boldly go.

Re: Map

Through my grade school years I did my homework on a desk that had a world map on its top surface. Oh the dreaming I did, the places where I vowed I would travel, the adventures I would have while trekking from country to country.

Last week I was at a symphony concert when, to my amazement moments before the maestro was about to appear, a woman took a folding paper map out of her purse to show her friend where they were going next. I’m not the only one to whom paper maps matter. Indeed there are reports that cartographers are still in need to create that tangible passport to adventure.
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/jan/08/off-the-chart-the-big-comeback-of-paper-maps-stanfords-print-any-map?

My wife presented me with a small world atlas after I complained that the hotel we stayed at had a Bible in the bedside drawer, but no book of maps. A planner like me enjoys mapping things out before venturing into the great beyond. Maps provide a great visual for the places I’d still like to explore, if not in reality then at least in my imagination. That grand desk map of my youth gave me all I needed to picture a train trip across the vastness of the U.S.S.R. or a sailing adventure to the Galapagos Islands or an exploration of the icy realm of Antarctica.

These days, both Google Maps and GPS systems are helpful as long as the power is on and you can remain plugged in. I like to check a photo or video map on my device so I can have a virtual view of the area where I’m intending to visit. I get the sense of already being there (which mystics will tell you is 90% of the trip). My son once gifted me with a TomTom directional device for my car. It made some trips easier, however I wish the automated voice would congratulate me, just once, for making a correct turn.

Natural world maps have rivers, mountains or oceans for borders. I enjoyed teaching my students to use topographical maps and compasses while orienteering. They learned that their environment was filled with intersections. Places where fields become forest, land becomes water, hillside becomes pasture. These ecotones, riparian and littoral zones have an abundance of life, shelter and sources of food, yet danger may lurk. Travel in these areas is both rewarding and risky.

Political maps have borderlines. A country is conquered; draw a line. A region is colonized; draw a line. A government changes hands; consult (maybe), draw a line, build a wall even. When I’m crossing these borders I take satisfaction in feeling that I am stepping over an arbitrary margin. Line in the sand eh? Life at the edge eh?

All borders have intersection points. Any confluence can suggest both challenge and opportunity. My finger traces my route on that tactile paper map. I put my feet on the ground. And I go.