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023_ Essay: adjusted paradise

04 May, 2021 - 6 min read

023_ Essay: adjusted paradise

Recent to ten years ago today, I learned a new art. It turns out I have been capable of this for some time before, just never was able to put it into much practice before then.

This isn’t an art form that requires much supplies or studying, but is purely based on experience and acceptance; and I think it takes an experience of exploring a place of wonder to flesh it out and reflect it back.

That is, if you’re willing to open up your eyes.

All this needs as I experience it, is a pencil, paper, backpack, shoes, a few shirts, swimsuit, add the clothes on your back and you’ll have all that you need.

What I’m speaking of is backpacking.

A hobby, profession to some, or perhaps just a long past summer for others.

This art is where you spend a period of time exploring a land new to you by ways of dirt roads, boats, buses, motorcycles, tricycles, jeepneys — any way to get around with an aim of seeing it through the eyes of a resident.

Now there are many guides that will ensure you never get to experience being Lonley along the way, keeping yourself as busy as can be every day stretching into quick nights of sleep.

But the purest way to do this is to take your pals or your consciousness, and set out.

While I was spending some time in Asia I had several of these adventures, and I could tell you a few entertaining stories from backpacking to peak your attention.

Either how I almost didn’t get allowed into Japan under suspicion of being a spy. How I spent an afternoon walking through an abandoned town, overtaken over by a mountain mudslide. Or how I experienced my first lesson in meditation at a naked hot spring from a man who spoke no English.

A hot spring me and my 10 travel companions only got in through the help of a boy no older than 6, whose parents were delighted in him putting his English lessons to use, and who were kind enough to give us coupons for free towels.

Or when I rolled into a small village on a dirt bike with a friend on the back and a mate beside on a scooter, ignorantly asking if there was a cafe near. Only to have the lone shop owner’s mother offer to make us a meal- with no money ever discussed.

It was the best spam I’ve ever had. I didn’t even mind picking out the bugs.

Which is the story that ten years later I still carry with me, feel with the scar on my knee, and what I chose to write down once, and have come back to tonight.

It’s the story of when I found a paradise.

Now not in a sense of a heavenly perfect place, but rather the most perfectly imperfect spot of land I had yet gained the chance to lay my head down for a night’s rest.

There were majestic limestone islands that stretched for as long as my sight could reach, looking as if someone threw them in place, tossing them where they see fit, and ornating them with white sandy beaches along their edge in a similarly haphazard way.

A place where the air was a cocktail of humidity, salt, and the untainted nature, of clean clear air, that leaves you longing for it on those dreary city days.

See, the idea I’ve always had of paradise isn’t the sort of getting fat and drunk at the side of the water, but rather one where I can lose myself in something larger than me. Something that forces me to step out of myself and into a world where if I was to think for too long, I would miss something of wonder.

Like the water that at night lights up with a green glow from any mere disturbance to its placidity.

Kayaking was the way I momentarily achieved this paradise goal. Camping with mates on those tossed limestone isles.

The mind clearing motion of the paddles hitting the water rhythmically while the front of the boat cuts through the subtle waves like cutting silk.

It’s still easy for my ears to hear.

Having my eyes filled with the grandest scope of ocean, trees, rocks, and sand.

Finding monkeys and cats on islands that are well off of any main land, which I can only deduce they have either been left there for some extended time, or placed there recently.

This new art gave me a perspective on what can be described with the extent of a pencil and paper, how some things no matter how strong your pen is, and how hard your ego persists, can’t be done justice.

How learning what you can go without, changes what you need.

Now, ten years later, I’m learning something so distant can still feel close and encapsulating. That time waits for no one, but folds for all.

This expressed metamorphosis, I fear, comes with a great cost.

You see, I saw this majestic, mystic, land by way of spoken word through travelers and explorers the like — a few beats around the sun before Instagram further altered the lens in which we see the world; and ourselves.

The truth I’m seeing, is the more people that even hear this story, with just small anecdotes about travels and adventure, and the more other people tell there’s through images and excess, the more this memory of paradise is nothing more than a memory.

How that remarkable air is polluted with the air of tourists. How the dirt road that took claim to the skin off my knee is going to be paved over with the words of progress and economics.

There then go the displaced animals on sandy shores, or the local man who in broken English told me about how he wishes to protect the island we camped on, his home. there they all go, exchanged for motorboats and resorts.

The world, and my view out into it has changed since learning this art. As the year in hibernation is seemingly coming to an end, I ponder evermore what will happen to a commodified art of observance without impression. Emerson without destruction.

Will more places be gone from the cost that myself and people like me have robbed to gain a perspective they weren’t seeking?

Or as the world was served a lesson in how connected we are, do we reap evermore distant effects save the few who capture, filter, post.

The majesty is of the moment, not of the setting.

For anywhere can be a paradise of wonder, itching to be seen.

It’s amazing how much time causes things to change, and all I will be left with is the memory, and these words on a page.

-J.R.

This was an excerpt from the intro essay to _bandwidth: coast to coast

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