I’ve taken refuge tonight at the Unity House Bed & Breakfast, an unassuming, nineteenth century house located on a side street in downtown Madison. I was soaked again earlier today just after I had finished my lunch break of an hour and a half. It only rained for twenty or thirty minutes, but my stubbornness and consistent feelings of resignation at being soaked prevented me from moving off the road and finding some sort of shelter beneath a tree that would have availed me of being drenched, and even though upon arriving in Madison I was not as wet as I had been, the weather service is calling for storms tonight and I’m simply not keen on trying to sleep through that in my tent just to save some cash and then have to put on cold, wet clothes the next morning.
I was, as usual, in agonies over making a decision because of the high cost of accommodation so early on in the trip (paid lodging for three of four nights so far), but once the decision was made and I was firmly inside the bed and breakfast, with my bicycle rolled into a corner and my bags strewn in a semblance of organization around it, and receiving the grand tour of the place, I was near to ecstasy. To have made a decision! What a triumph! What a weight lifted from my shoulders! The hell with the money. I can earn more later, doing something, anything if I have to, but for now to be reclining in a stuffed chair in a warm room with food in my belly (which I cooked on my campstove in the bathroom of my bedroom), and to know that the money is spent and there’s no possible way to get it back, I am CONTENT, like a fat dog on the hearth of a lighted fireplace.
My room exudes coziness. The queen-size bed is nearly chest-high so that I nearly have to climb into it, and thrusts itself well into the center of the room. The thick memory-foam mattress is piled high with numerous pillows, There are two tables, each with a lamp, on either side of the bed, and an armoire against the wall opposite. Near to the bed is the rather large, comfortable chair I am lounging in, my feet resting on a sort of attached ottoman. There is a flatscreen tv which I will not use on a table against the wall opposite me. The closet is filled with women’s clothing. The floor hardwood stained dark, and a soft light effuses the room through the tall windows draped with lace curtains. In the bathroom my wet clothes are spread about various fixtures, hanging from hooks, etc., drying. All is peace.
Not all was peace today, though. In some places along the way I wondered if peace ever came. Not long after leaving Lake City I passed a Native American church: Broken Lands Native American church to be exact. What peace may be found there? Certainly none in the name. Is it found in the two half-built teepees on the property? Mere skeletons with no flesh, no skin, just a pile of lumber leaning against each other in the shape of a cone, as if by doing so they might manage to stay upright, and lashed together at the top. If there was any peace there it would not stay for long. Perhaps there was peace in the two crumbling, dilapidated hovels that I suppose served as the church proper for whoever worshipped there, but the doors were left swinging ajar, and windows open. Some perhaps shattered. But, too, there appeared little to keep peace contained within. Could it somehow be captured in the three rundown, decrepit, old cars in the lot, parked between the unfinished teepees and the church? None of those looked as if they might run. It appeared as though someone had parked them there years ago and promptly forgot about them. I just don’t think one could find peace in any of those three cars.
On the other hand there is no physical thing that can be representative of the glory of God. Or I should say all things, all places are representative of the glory of God. They are all the glory of God from the lowliest dung beetle (if one sees the dung beetle as for some reason being lowly, as opposed to quite marvelous and magical), to the noblest of humans, say Thailand’s king, or the queen of England (as though birthright means anything in the grand scheme of it all). That said, one can worship or meditate anywhere and find peace there. Often I think I can find more peace in a fingernail clipping than I might find in one of these ostentatious mega-churches that are popping up all over the place. Costs a lot less to build too. Powder it up. Turn it into a wafer. This is MY body. Go worship in your monolithic church, crosses gilded in gold, and the wine unwatered; or go worship at broken lands, broken dreams, broken hopes, and broken promises; it makes no difference. Go to the swamp. Sit under a tree. Lie in a prairie full of wildflowers. It makes no difference so long as you know peace and you feel peace. What’s important is the you, not the it (the thing), for you become it when you project yourself onto it, whatever it is….
A little bit farther along I espied what appeared to have once been a home beneath a magnificent Live oak with Spanish moss hanging from its branches, surrounded by vegetation, covered in vegetation, looking rather rotten and squalid, but looking magical just the same, covered as it was in moss and lichen and vines, green things growing out of its gutters, and that magnificent Live oak with its limbs spread wide over the hovel as if protecting it or wishing to embrace it. It would make a great place to squat or camp as well hidden as it is, what with the forest grown up all around it. I damn near missed it pedaling along. Had to come to a screeching halt as I just happened to glance over at it beneath the trees.
Later on I passed a manor of sorts. Manor Hill or some such thing on 90. Huge property stuck full of pine trees, beneath the pine trees tarps, beneath the tarps bails of pine needles. I’d never seen such a thing. Will have to research it…. Research done. Easy. Apparently pine needles are bailed (called “pine straw”) and used as mulch.
A little further alongI stopped for lunch in Live Oak, at a panaderia (a Mexican bakery). The young woman, who I took for the proprietor, as it’s called Sandy’s, is maybe in her late 20’s or early 30’s. She seemed excited to see me. I saw this look in her eyes as I walked in and she greeted me from behind the counter while at the same time walking around from behind it of “Oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into here.” Of course I could have, in an alternate universe, spoken Spanish quite well. But of course this is not an alternate universe; it is this one in which I speak very, very little Spanish. She was very helpful in a way that seemed to give her pleasure; I suppose this would be called “hospitality.” There was a warmth in her smile and an engagement with me in describing the menu items that one doesn’t experience often—the delight to delight—partly, I guess, because she was a fluent English speaker (and rightly guessed that I was not a fluent Spanish speaker and so was also likely unfamiliar with the menu) and Sandy’s predominantly serves the Latino population in and around town—though there was an enormously, effusively appreciative white man in his sixties there too, who needed to make a phone call and send some money which she helped with—so I think she WANTS more white people to come in and have a pleasant experience, which as a business owner makes sense because she should want to maintain the profitability of her business. In this case though, I think there was more to her helpfulness than simply the financial aspect. There is also, I assume, the desire to be accepted as a Latino and a Latino-run business in this small American town (thinking of the socio-political climate of the nation today, particularly with Trump in office), and also the desire for her bakery and eatery to serve more than just the Latino population, (because this creates a sort of cultural friction) but to serve a multi-cultural community. Of course in order to do this it takes some courage and curiosity on the part of non-Latinos to bother going in. And if both of these qualifications aren’t meant there exists this subtle tension, which of course is all mental, but just because its mental doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the more one looks at something as a “they” or “them” place and not an “us” place, the greater that tension becomes. This would, I think, be a more prominent issue in a small town rather than a city, not that it doesn’t or can’t exist in cities because it does there too under certain circumstances, but in a small town there’s no hiding it. In a city it can be sort of swept under the rug, so to speak. All of this is a bit of an assertion on my part of course. She didn’t show any preference to me, and she didn’t ignore those (Latinos) already there ahead of me, but she simply saw the need to help someone who perhaps was in need of aid in navigating the menu, for I’m certain there had to have been a look of unfamiliarity on my face.
Anyway, once things were explained to me good and proper, and my order was placed, I found a seat at the bar, and then a man older than her—perhaps her father, or maybe HE was the owner, or maybe even just an employee, and maybe not her father at all—cooked my food, and it was really good, basic Mexican fare: a torta which is basically a griddled Mexican sandwich, and may be filled with a variety of things: meats, eggs, jalapeños, mayonnaise, cheese, pickles, onion, etc. Not something I would ordinarily eat, and certainly not healthy, but I make exceptions when traveling in this fashion sometimes, and to have met those people at that tiny eatery it was a joyous occasion I think, and at the time I also thought it would make for a most excellent cultural exchange, which it did, and so was justifiable. And it was not long, twenty minutes in fact, after I finished my lunch and was on my way again that the rain began again.
But I’m here! In comfort and resignation!, as I wrote earlier. My laptop is resting beside me, and I’m still ensconced in the same cushy chair. I’m watching a short video of a couple who are visiting Martin Heidegger’s cabin in the Black Forest in Germany. They describe a ritual that he would practice regularly each morning upon opening the cabin door and setting foot outside of collecting water in a white bucket from a nearby trough of a hollowed out log that was fed by a pipe projecting from the hillside. And each morning he would take this bucket of his and collect his water for the day, or morning, or whatever, and this was all part of finding and cultivating a connection with nature, with the land that his cabin was built on and was a part of.
According to the couple, or the man, Heidegger had a distaste, or disgust, for the Socratic idea of the duality of man, which is the separation of mind and body, that they are not a whole but are distinct and separable. I think more commonly people think of the; at least in a religious sense, which is what I was thinking of while watching this portion of the video (because it seems obvious to me that mind and body are not dualistic); separation of body and spirit. This is generally assumed as true in Western religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I’m for thinking body and spirit are one, though. The body is no different from the spirit; it is the spirit. And now I’m pondering Indra’s Net which, at its simplest, is the Buddhist philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things, the multi-dimensional spiderweb. There is a lecture by Alan Watts, called Buddhism as Dialogue, in which he speaks of Indra’s Net, and there is a line in there, and I quote, “That’s the meaning of Indra’s net. So that, this is called in Zen, to take up a blade of grass and use it as a golden Buddha 16 feet high.” Inside that blade of grass are contained all things, and Heidegger’s bucket it seems to me is a metaphor for this. This connectedness to nature, this mind-body-spirit meld, Indra’s Net, the blade of grass, and the golden Buddha 16 feet high. His white bucket is the blade of grass, it is the golden Buddha. It is perfect.
There is another quotation of Heidegger’s cited in the video that I feel is strongly relevant to me now: “By confronting what is often anxiety producing we gain our freedom from living a life just like everyone else, and our lives become our own.” And so this bike trip is a thing which I think defines me in that manner. It is at times anxiety producing, uncomfortable, not pleasurable, but it is my freedom, and it, among other pursuits, separates me from the herd. But is this important? This idea of Heidegger’s, I mean, not the trip. The trip is obviously of importance. Actually, scratch that. I don’t know that this trip is important at all. But then I’m one to question the importance of all things, of everything. So, should this idea matter? Is the herd inherently bad (not that Heidegger is explicitly implying that)? When one thinks of a herd of animals one things of protection and safety in numbers, the preservation of the species, etc. But the term “the herd” used in reference to humans is generally connoted as negative, as a bunch of lemmings walking off a cliff, as self-destructive, as a group of people feeding off each other, being only informed by each other and thus being siloed from other ideas and ways of thinking and so being ill-informed, incompletely informed, or outright misinformed; or essentially acting in the manner of dumb beasts which we are purportedly above (at least in intelligence), forming a circle, some facing inward heads hidden away, some facing outwards teeth bared, ready to lash out with horn or hoof at an offender of “the doctrine.” Yet, can these people be blamed?, especially when one takes into consideration the inbred objective of all animals, humans included, which is the preservation of life (and with that comes the preservation of all things dear to or associated with that person, and thus the group) and the continued reproduction of the species (this is simply the desire for sex, regardless of whether you want to produce a child or not). These people are simply protecting themselves. So you can see why they (the herd) might be looked down on by a more intellectual “elite” who have a greater capability of thinking for themselves (though these types often end up doing the exact same thing as the group they’re looking down on, and rejecting any idea that wasn’t propagated by their own or which threatens their own set of rules and ethics (the irony!). I think the best thing a person can do for himself is to intermingle, to raise herself beyond the fray, to understand both sides, but these people are rare. They’re also often the least judgmental of people because they have no doctrine to defend. Their doctrine is essentially the doctrine of no doctrine, or of everyone’s doctrine, because often multiple groups have valid perspectives and valid points to make (even if one has to dig for them). They’re also usually not so concerned with self-preservation, and as a result they have nothing to lose. This creates a fluidity in their interactions with these various groups and factions that those members of the groups don’t have outside of the group.
Anyway, I’ve written much, and thought deeply about this, and am frankly tired, and what happened to this travel blog? I think it is time to turn in.
To anxiety! To freedom! To the white bucket! To defining one’s own life! Joy to all the world!