I LOOK OUT to the southern sky where streaky clouds well beyond the far side of the bay striate a horizon turning the pale lemon yellow of a late Autumn evening. It’s a view that mentally transports me and that delicious sense of distant places and distant people fills me, and the words of a song start playing in my head…
“Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”
Maybe you know those the words. They come from Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man. Whenever I hear them they fill me with this sense of freedom, of life lived in the moment, and a sensation of wanting to be out there wherever out there may be flows through my brain and energises my body and I feel again the pull of the unmoored life.
I know my life has been too moored lately even though I am only a week back from the backblocks of NSW’s far north coast. It was wet up there, raining for the first couple days in that continuous kind of rain that’s heavier than a drizzle but lighter than a downpour. There I spent time with a friend whose life is moored, anchored to her place with which she has a deep identification. She is living-in-place, living Wendell Berry’s “If you don’t know where you are you don’t know who you are.” Berry was a writer, a nature writer and, yes, like Berry said, she knows who she is.
“If you don’t know where you are you don’t know who you are.” Wendell Berry.
So do many of the others who were there. Like her, the colleague from down in Victoria is anchored to place too but, like her, he unmoors and travels, telling me how he has recently bought a 4WD ute and has set up a canopy over the back with space to sleep and do those daily things you do when you camp in the bush. He went out to the Nightcap after our gathering, out into the subtropical mountains with their dark dripping forest and fresh water streams.
Yes, my life has been too moored lately, but not completely. It unmoored briefly when my partner and I decided, more or less spontaneously one day, that we would go walking along a coastal track in a national park on the edge of the city. Treading those headlands and yellow sand beaches – it was so good to be out there again, well beyond the other side of the bay where those streaky clouds striated the skyline late this afternoon.
I think of my friends and realise that most of them are not, nor have they been wanderers. They are people who have found fulfillment in the settled life though those of them that I knew in our shared youth did wander for a time. Some, like me, wandered up and down the east coast over the years, some to that island where I spent much time. Some are still there, no longer wandering and, soon I hope, I will be there too, for if that island does only one thing it is to make wandering possible. There, you can live the unmoored life in a settled sort of way.
That’s an attraction. Having a home base from which you unmoor yourself for varying lengths of time offers the best of both worlds. Different, say, to the young woman I met who was living in her van. She had unmoored, completely. Different, too, to that man in the camping area in Triabunna with his ute with its slip-on camper. I think he was retired and was enjoying the unmoored life, nowhere to be by any time at all, just the land and the mountains and coasts and the grey asphalt strip that sucks his home-on-the-road forever onward.
The cosmologist, the late Carl Sagan, wrote that how we people, we humans, are wanderers at heart. Although the agricultural revolution made us settled farmers and townspeople, our real heritage is still there… buried deep… and sometimes, when it is quiet and the world is still, we can hear it faintly calling. Carl Sagan put it this way…
“For all its material advantages, the sedentary like has left us… edgy …unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls… like a nearly-forgotten song of childhood” … Carl Sagan, Wanderers: [https://vimeo.com/108650530]
The mountains have always attracted the wanderers, the unmoored in life. Sure, some find the coasts more conducive. They are usually warmer and you can wander kilometer after kilometer along isolated beaches. There’s a pleasure to be found in that, but there’s a sameness too. The coast is flat for the most part, and you get your shoes wet. You get your shoes wet in the mountains, too, but there the wet comes with that sharp sting of cold water, not the gentle wash of the salty. Whatever your choice, coast or mountain, I think we can look to Gary Sneider to sum it up:
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” …Gary Sneider.
Nature. Home. Home away from home for awhile, at least. Sneider night have been talking in terms of human evolution but even in the short temporal sense, nature, the mountains, the coasts, unmoors us from urban civilisation and take us back to where we came from. “Range after range of mountains. Year after year after year. I am still in love,” he wrote of his sense of returning to nature.
Wandering. The unmoored life. I look back over decades to when I first lived in this city, to when I was young and the world was still wide and open. Then, somehow, I came into possession of a book with a passage that grabbed my imagination and clarified in my head that life didn’t have to be lived by the pattern I had learned from my parents. It went like this:
“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution… thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures.”
The book was called The Dhamma Bums and I learned later that it was something of a classic, a significant work of literature. I didn’t know that then and if I would have then it wouldn’t have mattered, for that book spoke to me. It appealed because it was about a footloose, unmoored band of friends and how they lived in the city and went climbing mountains and stayed in cabins in the countryside. There was much appealing in that.
I think that a reason that book appealed to me was because it caught my sense of directionlessness. Maybe that was something of a subconscious sense though I felt it as that openess to the world I mentioned a couple paragraphs back, that open-endedness. Was I a drifter in life? Directionless, or as Dylan put it in another song, ” …to be on your own… like a rolling stone”?
I have had direction in life but not as a continuous thing, a constantly moving towards something. It has been more sporadic, shorter-lived. Now, I still feel that open-endedness, that lack of direction. Sometimes I sit by myself and I feel the breeze on my face and look in an unfocused kind of way towards the horizon and I feel it all the stronger and ask myself “Where now? Where to now?”, and I get no answer because there is no answer.
It is darker now. The striated clouds and lemon yellow of the evening sky have been hidden by a soft darkness, yet my mind is in that reflective, wide state in which images and words come from somewhere and tumble into consciousness. So I decide to leave the last words to Suzanne Selfors, as she writes them in Coffeehouse Angel, because I realise that I am not the only one who feels this way:
“Surely there were others like me, born without an inkling of direction. The wanderers, the amblers, the dabblers, united by our purposeless mantra — I have no idea what to do with my life.”