Peace, Trees & Rocketships Posts

This post is part of a series of micro-travelogues describing the experience of a westerner during seven weeks in India.

I’m in a taxi in the western Indian state of Goa, a sun-drenched surfer’s paradise known for good seafood, wild parties and easy access to illicit drugs. Like most of India, to my western eyes it’s a hard-to-grasp mishmash of poverty and prosperity, of vitality and color, of incredible beauty and unbelievable filth. It’s also the only place I’ve ever visited where all of the world’s major religions seem to coexist in at least some level of harmony. There are lots of huge Christian churches (courtesy of the Portuguese colonial rulers), but there are also impressive collections of Islamic mosques, Hindu temples, and other religious structures I can’t even identify. Given this obvious attitude of religious tolerance, I guess the shrine on my taxi driver’s dashboard shouldn’t surprise me.

It consists of three figurines glued to the dashboard and sprinkled by a handful of fresh flower petals. It’s no great surprise to see these little shrines in Indian taxis—if you’ve ever experienced Mumbai traffic then you understand the need for divine intervention. It’s not the fact that the shrine exists that gives me pause, it’s the figurines themselves. Two of them are typical Indian god figures, brightly colored and festooned with jewels. I recognize the one with the elephant head as Ganesh (he’s easy for a westerner to spot), but the other one is a mystery. It’s generally humanoid but with too many arms, but like Ganesh, it is full of cartoonish color and energy.

Read More The Goa Taxi Jesus

Explorations

This post is part of a series of micro-travelogues describing the experience of a westerner during seven weeks in India.

The moving map with the little airplane icon doesn’t show political borders, just a low-resolution image of satellite terrain. Where am I? I check the route map in the back of the airline magazine. Are we flying over Armenia, or Turkey? I’m beginning to realize that my high-school geography is totally inadequate when confronted by the real world. Maybe that’s the Republic of Georgia in the distance to the north? Could it be Russia?

The ride is smooth; the roars, rumbles and hisses of an airliner in flight have merged into an acoustic lullaby. Everyone else is asleep, but I find myself glued to the window, trying not to smudge the cold plastic with my noseprint. It’s after midnight and the full moon is behind us, revealing a soft, snow-covered landscape of wrinkles and folds. Above, the stars are harsh blue perforations in a cold steel sky, arranged in strange patterns like an indecipherable blueprint of creation.

We’re flying over some of the most beautiful and exotic lands on Earth. How can it be that nobody else is enthralled by the view? Why isn’t every nose stuck to the glass, watching the wonders of the planet scroll slowly below us in the ethereal moonlight? How is it that nobody cares?

Read More Night flight over Persia

Explorations

Admittedly, this is a bit heavy-handed and iconoclastic, but I offer no apologies; it’s the way I felt after reading the news today.

She was born in the heart of the first man, and she has stalked us since. It was she who elevated the kings to their thrones and the gods to their high realms, and through the millennia her tyranny has grown boundless.

To some she seems a noble warrior: tall and terrible; to others she is a virtuous goddess: beautiful and compelling. Yet all men know the crushing power of her weapons: in her right hand is Patriotism, in her left Religion, and spanning her brow is the crown of Righteousness. She is glory and misery, passion and cruelty. She is the sword and the flag, the hymn and the verse. She is the army marching to defend the homeland from the enemy, the preacher condemning the unbelievers. She knows that the hollow cavity of our soul can be filled by love or fear, but not both, and that fear is the more energizing passion.

Read More The Queen of Flag and Verse

Essay

Here’s a flash-fiction story inspired by an evening I spent at Canyon de Chelley, surely one of the most magical places on the North American continent.

The old man stood at the rim of a canyon in Navajo country, his toes just three inches from the raw edge. Sunset had come and gone, and now the thousand-foot-drop at his feet could only be perceived as a black emptiness as huge and compelling as eternity itself. It was visceral, existential; instead of a canyon, he felt as if he was leaning over the farthest end of the earth, staring down into cosmic infinity. Death was three inches away, but he’d never felt more alive.

Read More The Owl and the Canyon

Stories

I met Jens a week after walking across the Pyrenees from France. It was September, and we were in the heart of Basque country, following the ancient pilgrimage trail to the city of Santiago de Compostela which lay over four hundred miles to the west. I’d noticed Jens earlier in the day, an old man tottering along the path, sweating despite the relative cool, his tall figure supported by a pair of trekking poles upon which he leaned precariously. As I’d hurried past him I’d nodded and given him the traditional pilgrim’s greeting: “Buen Camino!”

He’d been too occupied by the strenuous act of walking to return the greeting, but he had returned my nod. His age made him an exception on the Camino. Most of the other hikers were middle-aged or younger. Though he bore himself with youthful pride, his gait gave him away. It was the shuffle-sway-shuffle of an octogenarian. Jens was far older than his fellow pilgrims, but despite his age, he was still a large man with broad shoulders and a strong back. He carried a small blue pack, but he wore no hat, and his face and scalp were dangerously red.

Read More For Jens: A Stone upon Craggy

Explorations Optimal Living

A 90-minute drive south from Portland brings you to one of the most unique hiking trails in America. The Trail of Ten Falls is an easy, 8.7-mile loop hike in the Silver Falls State Park. The name of the trail doesn’t do it justice. Yes, there are ten waterfalls along the trail. The thing is, though, several of them are terrifically magnificent, dropping vertically 200 feet or more. The trail even passes behind a few of the largest falls, giving you the unique perspective of standing inside one of nature’s most awe-inspiring engines.

My wife and I hiked the trail and captured our experience on a short video. Check it out for the highlights of the trail, and if you are ever in Oregon, make the time to visit this state park. You won’t be disappointed.

Read More Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Explorations Uncategorized

I hear the same mantras over and over from my most successful and happy friends, as well as the famous artists and business people I admire most: Live in the moment. Be mindful. Live like there’s no tomorrow.  It leaves me wondering… do they know something I don’t?  What the heck do those words even mean, really?

So, as a project for the new year, I’m going to do a little philosophical experiment. And because I’m a writer, I’m going to write about it. If you don’t like philosophy, or you don’t care for experiments, stop reading now and go check out the latest cool article over at wired.com.

Okay, you’re still reading so let’s just dive in. I’m neither a philosopher nor a scientist, but in an effort to make my philosophical experiment be all scientific-like, I’ve developed a hypothesis. Here it is:

Screw the future. It’s irrelevant to happiness and it hinders success.

Read More The “Screw the Future” Experiment

Optimal Living

Designers say the eye is guided by the simplest elements of an image. Maybe that’s why we humans find whitespace so compelling; it provides context for the pattern-recognition tendencies of our brains. But truly, it is the unexpected disruption of simplicity that  elevates a beautiful scene into one that is sublime.

Read More A World Full of Sparrows

Essay Speculations

Images and impressions on a Moroccan train from Casablanca to Rabat teach me not to point out the mote in another’s eye while ignoring the log in my own.

In the Casablanca Train Station

There’s something about the collision of old and new, of tradition and progress, that makes the bizarre wreckage of Casablanca utterly irresistible. A gleaming new train station with flat-screen monitors, none of which work because nobody knows how to operate them. Luxurious first-class coaches where the air conditioner has probably never been switched on. State-of-the-art train platforms covered with blowing trash, apparently because nobody thinks it’s a problem. Internet-connected ticket machines that will instantly debit my bank in America, next to a bathroom with a filthy squat toilet attended by a smiling old lady in a burka.

Read More The Train to Rabat

Explorations

Make sure your kids read good stories, because the books they read as teens will shape them for the rest of their lives.

A friend recently sent me a Facebook challenge to name my top ten favorite novels, not expecting that her simple request would preoccupy my life for a week. At first I tried ignoring the request, but I am a list-maker, a ranker of things, so the challenge eventually proved irresistible. I started a list, but it quickly grew to twenty, then thirty titles, with more popping into my head as fast as I could jot them down.

Read More The most important novels (are the ones you read as a kid).

Writing