answers, beach, Celtic, creative, discover, discovery, druid, France, Germany, home, horizon, Ireland, Irish, journey, lake, loss, Michigan, nature, Nebraska, Odysseus, place, possibility, process, reflection, sand, sea, search, seeking, tourism, travel, value
I grew up in Nebraska, where the horizon is almost always visible. Within the huge space offered by horizons there are unending possibilities, known yet unknown, which call forth a spirit of creative energy. The inherent danger of a horizon is that it inevitably becomes unreal – once it is reached, it disappears, and is gone forever; it never existed. The redeeming grace of this disappearing act is that a new horizon will always appear, spurring new ideas, new possibilities, new creativity; new relationships to self and the world. When I first moved to Germany, I sorely missed the presence of the horizon. In the rolling hills and built up areas of central Europe, the horizon is elusive at best, either disguising itself in the undulations of overlapping hills, or completely hiding behind urban sprawl. For me, the loss of the horizon was the worst part of culture shock, but I was unable to articulate it at the time. After several years in the new landscape, the pain of this loss passed, and I eventually no longer noticed anything was missing. I had become a part of a new landscape that I had grown to truly love.
After spending several years in Germany, I moved to southern France, and the horizon returned in a flurry of contrasts. To the north of where I lived were the French pre-alpes, with confusing lines of vision. Instead of the gentle rolling hills of central Europe, this was a ragged collection of peaks stabbing into the sky, a majestically broken and uneven line, locking the ever present unknown firmly within its grasp, preventing the creative possibilities of the beyond from even being intimated. There is no doubt that mountains are a beautiful sight, in fact the mountains are one of my favorite landscapes, but instead of the creative beyond offered by an even horizon, one feels the wonder of smallness, and in that feeling of smallness, a sense of an unknown unity unfolds, a better understanding of one’s true place in the world.
To the south of us though, was the Mediterranean Sea, and I spent much time on the rocky strand with the mountains behind me, staring out at the horizon of the sea. It was in winter, when the sun worshippers had abandoned the beach and the normally gentle Mediterranean waves were a good bit livelier, that I was reminded of that part of me which responded to the creative possibilities contained in horizons. Instead of corn fields stretching out to the beyond and rustling in the wind, it was the deep blue of the sea reaching out and shhh-shhhhhing as it came into shore on a mesmerizing offbeat rhythm. The wonder at the beyond prompted the creative spirit, the desire to become the sea and reach out to the promises of the beyond. Over the course of several weeks, standing on the windy shore as often as possible, I gradually was able to acknowledge two distinct longings that had been silently accompanying me for many years – the longing for immersion into the creative event of the beyond returned, now mingling with an emerging homesickness for the heartland of the United States.
I haven’t made it back to the heart of my heartland, but a few months later, I found myself standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, gazing out at the horizon, feeling the creative process within the embrace of my home. Though of a different hue, the horizon of Lake Michigan appears to the physical eye much the same as that of the Mediterranean, and awakens the same restlessness of spirit that any horizon awakes. My attention though, surprisingly, was drawn instead to the land behind me – sand dunes and grasses. This reminded me of a major difference in the experience, as such, of the Lake Michigan and Mediterranean shores. In France, the experience was ungracefully and rudely punctuated by the incessant traffic of the Route National, commuter trains, and a large discotheque. There was no silence, no sounds of nature, only the constant reminders of how distant nature has become. On the shore of Lake Michigan though, there was no urban development, no motorways, no high speed trains roaring by. I breathed deeply and experienced the feeling of peace, the creative process of the horizon, and, perhaps as Odysseus might also have felt, the serenity of being home again after so many years of wandering. My European wanderjahre ended on that day.
True to their nature though, even as the horizons of my wanderjahre were reached, new ones opened up before me. I began to ask why this land had not been developed. The first, and most obvious, answers were that the level of tourism here on Lake Michigan is nowhere near that of the French Riviera, and the old world has been actively developed for thousands of years longer than the new world. But things are rarely as simple as they appear, and as I continued on that chain of thought, the question ultimately arose – what is the real value of land preservation? Take away the history and mass tourism, and take away even the conscious experience of serenity that I was currently having, that is, take away any conscious value derived from the immediate experience of nature, and what is it that remains? That is what I wanted to discover…