Frank Chimero, a most interesting designer with interesting blogs, posted recently on how he organized his listening using Spotify. I’ve posted on this subject before, how the new streaming world wrecks the old curating/filing system built around physical CDs. Frank He writes: “I organize this system in Spotify with the “To Listen” playlist on the top level, then a folder for each year that contains 14 playlists: the yearly “long list”, the yearly “shortlist”, and then the 12 monthly playlists.” As soon as I read his blog post, I knew his methodology was exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’ll implement it on return to Australia. Check it out: it may be just right for you!
Over the last week, I’ve read Phil Cousineau’s “The Art of Pilgrimage.” Tomorrow we commence our pilgrimage. Does the book clarify how best to approach the five-week walk? Well, it turns out Cousineau is mainly airy words that mean little to me but I do extract his essence: a pilgrimage equals some hardship or privation or slog, plus an inner quest. The unifying notion of a holy spot at the end, well, I don’t need that, I can just espouse to stride towards and reach the end.
Cousineau also offers his own recipes for pilgrimaging, and I quite liked them: “Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way. . . . If it’s impractical to carry a walking stick on your journey, an alternative is to remember to walk barefoot at least once a day. . . . On my journeys, I choose a theme. One of my favorite subjects is roads . . . Try taking a day to brood. . . . If there is a trick to soulful travel, it is learning to see for yourself. The difference between pilgrim and tourist is the intention of attention, the quality of the curiosity.” All well and good but nothing speaks to me.
But I do need some process. All I have is a vague desire to view the pilgrim stamps as my passage to a deeper chapter of meaning, which in practice means sorting out big years, writing goals, etc.; perhaps moving to a deeper understanding of my life with family and friends. I also wish to fully celebrate time on and off track with dear ones. Some notion of curiosity, quite foreign to me these days in tourist mode, lurks as well. Let’s see what transpires.
What is it about a project that terrifies as much as it inspires? Over the last two and a quarter years of Big Years, I’ve kept coming back to this quixotic project, to go see (and write about, with photos) all fifteen crane species around the world. We’re talking each continent. We’re talking some seriously remote places. We’re talking mucho dollars, a heap of organization. All of this with only the fuzziest notion of eventual output.
Right now the biggest problem with this possible Big Year, and a couple of the others, is the time impost. While I have a book to write, shouldn’t I write? Shouldn’t I resist vague detours?
So . . . in Europe, when I can, I’ll sink into this sumptuous book: Paul A. Johnsgard’s “A Chorus of Cranes: The Cranes of North America and the World” (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DY08GHG).
Let’s keep it simple. It’s so enjoyable to find birds, identify them, and watch them. It’s fun even if you dip (that’s a technical term for chasing a particular bird but don’t spot it). In addition, why is birding a “good” thing? You connect with your wider world. You celebrate the breadth and depth of your fellow airborne creatures. You ponder the meaning of existence and your role. You become an advocate for your grandchildren’s heritage. Is that enough?
Since the birding Big Year notion was what inspired my decade-long concept, this should be the most straightforward aspiration to plan for, right? Just get out there, the two of us, blissfully ticking as many birds as we can over 365 days . . . why not? But it’s not that simple. It seems pointless to aim at an Australia-wide tally, for there are so many birders out there far more talented and conscientious than we are. A global ticking year might make sense but with precisely what aim? Maybe it would be better, and more time- and cost-conscious to just focus on our state of Victoria. Or is there some other “tick the feathered creatures” concept out there that might resonate?
To help with thinking, I’ll read “One More Warbler: A Life with Birding” by Victor Emanuel (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MU1K9G5).
In 2015 the appeal of this Big Year was crystal clear to me. Every month or two, why not fo for one of the macho full-backpack, sleep-in-tent hikes that bedazzle global adventurers. My mental list includes the Grand Canyon, Tour du Mont Blanc, Corsica, Western Arthurs, Iceland, canyons in Utah, one or two in New Zealand. Once you start dreaming like this, the imagination and its attached yearnings, soar.
The trouble is, I’m a bit older now. And Pam is not interested in such hikes at all (she loves other kinds of hikes, such as the one we’re embarking upon shortly), so it would make for a lonely year.
So . . . I’ve tracked down a book that looks dubious but may address the “challlenge” aspects of such a Big Year, “Grit Is a 4-Letter Word: The Psychology of Backcountry Travel” (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B7HDRGH) by Ann Gimpel. Let us see what emerges, eh?
Another Big Year gnawing away at me, the idea of getting back into activist mode to secure a better world for grandchildren. This Big Year is problematical but why? Because activism just doesn’t suit a loner geek. But it can and must be done.
I couldn’t find a 2018 climate change book that beckoned to me for holiday reading, so I’m turning to the most recent (2015) book by one of the clearest voices on the issue, Joseph Romm. His “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know” (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0173R4EJK) could be a book that helps me sort out my priorities. (If this proves to be too basic, I have a fallback I can go for.)
Remember “The Way,” the half-hokey, half-wonderful film about the Camino? The closing scene has Martin Sheen, having conquered the Camino, striding sunburnt and righteous on another unspecified pilgrimage. Well, an easy notion for me at the age of 60 was to dedicate a Big Year to what I called Long Walks, and what I saw as long walks was pilgrimage-style epics. Perhaps, I imagined, I’d do five or six of the classic global pilgrimages in Europe, Japan, and United Kingdom. I’d experience being away from home half the year, trudging maybe close to 4,000 kilometers.
I’m not so sure now. I still love the very idea of hypnotic trudges on well-worn routes but several factors mitigate against trying this. First, my better half undoubtedly would only join me for a portion of such an obsessive quest, and I’m at the age I’d prefer not to be apart too long. Second, this kind of Big Year chews up time from writing (although I’ve toyed with the idea of hiking early mornings and writing in the afternoons). And third, and this is most important, what would be the point? Always, that’s the question to ask: what’s the point?
Long hikes naturally fit into the domain of religious pilgrimages and I’m a rabid atheist. Does this detract from or add to the appeal of such trips? So . . . during this hike (itself a piligrimage route), I’ll dive into Phil Cousineau’s “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred” (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0096QZ5BI). This is defiantly not “my kinda book,” so let’s have a go at it anyway.
Three days into an eight-day birding tour in the northwest of Spain, it’s clear to me that steady, sustained birdwatching feels highly meaningful to me. Of course, being chauffeured around and having birds pointed out to you and identified for you by a guide is a different proposition to birding by yourself, but they’re both equally enthralling. For hours you focus your eyes and your mind on the terrain around you, looking for movement and then attempting visual contact and then identification. You’re in nature, as deeply as you’ll ever be. You’re affirming a future for the world, a future you know humankind is messing with. You’re puzzling out, it seems to me, your role in the wider world.
Next year will definitely see me returning to some form of cultural obsessiveness. Abstaining this year is driving me nuts. Probably I’ll launch back into reviewing, which is a punitive and often thankless role that nonetheless fills me with joy.
I’d like greater clarity on the societal role of this kind of activity. So . . . an easy choice seems to be Houman Barekat’s “The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online” (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079NBK8R2). I’ll report back.