As of today (August 20), this blog has an exact life expectancy of 3,421 more days. The Big Decade concludes on December 31, 2025.
For some inexplicable reason, the prospect of such sustained activity fills me with energy, and my interest is doubly piqued. Does publicly journaling some aspect of life not only help underpin it (“I’m naked so I’d better behave”), but also doubly enrich life by adding reflection?
Does the reluctantly photographed walker seem happy? He is and his mind inevitably ponders a hiking big year, loads and loads of walking from January 1 to December 31. Call such thinking premature, for 2017 and 2018 are most probably loaded with very different obsessions (but who can tell, part of the pleasure is in weighing momentous choices), but the mind enjoys playing with plans.
Spur-of-the-moment big years, scribbled down a year ago, incorporated not one, but two big years:
- Long Hikes Big Year. 12 months away from home doing pilgrimage-like walks, the best known example being the Camino.
- Tough Hikes Big Year. Target the arduous: Grand Canyon, Western Arthurs, Corsica, Tour du Mont Blanc, the canyons of Utah.
But neither of these is as yet well-formed. Neither channels everyday effort. I had this insight while day walking in Wales: the Long year should target X,000 kilometers of distance; the Tough year can target Y,000 meters of ascent.
Up high in the Dolomites later this week, how’s about I take this insight further? Such fun!
Do we need an app for everything? Spare me, spare me. But maybe we need one more . . .
My two 2016 big years were launched in my head based on little more than a mad impulse. I scribbled some plans in a notebook, waited for January 1, and began. The challenges have been, and very much remain, motivational: why oh why today.
But planning and monitoring were always part of my geeky attraction to the concept. I knew woolly-headed annual goals, such as “shouldn’t I try to inculcate a regular exercise habit,” would sink without a trace. Birders, my role model, know on January 1 precisely what species to aim to see, and they keep careful “I saw this” lists. How then should I organise a Big Year?
A while back, I opined that my jogging app, Strava, “is magic. I know exactly where I am in any day in relation to my big year target. Unfortunately not everything worthwhile in life is covered by an app.” Pedal Pete was onto me in a flash:
There is nothing else worthwhile in your life that cannot be recorded in Strava
So . . . is a Big Decade app worth developing? Intriguing. But no – the journey, half a year old now, seems to be more complex than any software can handle, and the unfolding journey is quite the point of the whole exercise.
Image: Visual Hunt
Maria Popova at Brain Pickings muses about “James Baldwin on the revelation that taught him how to truly see” and includes her amazing gathered observations:
“The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras wrote in 1984. Many legendary artists can trace their creative path to a single moment of revelation in which they were suddenly able to see the invisible dimensions of the world — for what is art, after all, if not “a dynamic contemplation” and what is the task of the artist if not to see beyond the seeming realities of the world?
For Patti Smith, that revelation was a glimpse of a swan when she was a little girl; for Virginia Woolf, a gardening epiphany; for Pablo Neruda, a hand through the fence of his childhood home; for Albert Einstein, his first encounter with a compass.
Such small items to trigger lifelong work! I can’t recall what drove me to wish to write in the first place, as a teen, nor indeed what motivated me to give up lucrative day jobs to take it up again later in life (with such dim prospects, as has been demonstrated). But I’m still vulnerable to the effect of small moments. A while ago I posted about Pedal Pete (see “What then in the presence of greatness“). If I hadn’t recorded that sequence of my thoughts, it would have been lost in the soup of mind chatter, but I did, and it still strikes me as revelatory. It says something real about people (for me, how to write characters) but also about time’s arrow (the old saw of “live for the day”). It says more but what?
Celebrating my 60th a year ago, I improvised a vague, seemingly silly notion of a Big Decade. Now I wish I’d thought of it a couple of decades earlier. The idea is quirky, geeky and probably suitable for just one person – me – but I can say it’s a real blast!
One year soon enough will be a Long Hikes Big Year, lots of biggies. Now for some practice . . .
Does obsessing about one passion over twelve months lead to a cast-iron habit? I’m not sure. I read Charles Duhigg’s wonderful book four years ago, found it interesting, but didn’t tackle it seriously. Now is the time to revisit it, in light of the Big Decade. And of course airplanes are the ideal places to dig into books.
I was awed, a couple of weeks back, to spend a few moments watching Pedal Pete (aka Peter Arnott) complete yet another Everesting, one imbued with grief after the death of his niece. I watched him glide down his steep Everesting hill (he’d end up ascending and descending 150 times), not a muscle moving, a study in aerodynamic skill. He banked at the bottom, turned round. I watched him effortlessly rise up out of his seat and pump ferocious leg muscles smoothly, powerfully, as he made his way back up the road. I imagined myself doing this once, twice, three times, hey, maybe four, but could contemplate no more.
We’re besieged by images and stories of super sportspeople, to the extent that they rarely excite awe in us. Too many of us invent narratives in our heads that allow us to dismiss performance or skill that we ourselves can’t find the willpower to work towards. It’s as if we imagine that the extraordinary is, after all, ordinary.
I watched Pete and the question that surfaced startled me. In the face of such talent and dedication, what should I ask of myself? Does this sense of awe just wash over me? Or does it compel me to find something to tackle, to strive to master it?
(Photo courtesy of Brendan Edwards – check out his varied and fascinating cycling blog.)
I’ve been trying not to think much about my aim to conduct a Cranes Big Year, twelve calendar months during which I seek, see, photograph and write about all the crane species of the world across every continent. This is a very different “big year” to jogging more, or writing more productively, or devoting time to activism. The “cranes” notion is an unbidden one, coming from deep inside. In some sense, the cranes have spoken to me.
Well, a sixty-year-old needs to schedule the more physical years earlier rather than later, so I’ve been avoiding cranes. But take a look at this photo of brolgas at the Western Treatment Plant! David Adam, a member of Victorian Birders, has captured a familial scene I’ve never witnessed. As soon as I saw this shot, I knew the Cranes Big Year must be bumped up in the queue. David, thanks!