How To Travel At Home: Finding New Routes Through Our Daily Lives


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Grandpa Schiffman joshed that he was taking us grandkids on an ocean voyage to Europe. The round trip on the Staten Island Ferry to the city’s farthest-flung borough and back to lower Manhattan took a little over an hour and cost a nickel, a bargain even in the late 1950s.

While Europe would have to wait, New York Harbor was unusual enough for kids brought up in the asphalt jungle. There was a limitless bowl of sky above us, swift tides, salt-tanged breezes, even wildlife: cormorants diving headlong into the waves and seagulls snagging the chunks of baked pretzel we tossed them. There were boats too of all sizes—tugs and barges, a fireboat fountaining rainbowed streams of water, and an ocean liner two blocks long bellowing its horn while heading out to the open Atlantic and ports unknown.

The harbor was where the world began, an expanse of ocean just beyond Manhattan’s wall of skyscrapers. I will never forget the thrill of being a part of something larger than myself. It was the beginning of a lifelong romance with the natural world, and with travel.

Since then, I’ve done my share of global travel, for which I am grateful. Travel is a powerful antidote to the growing distance many feel from the natural world. But I’m just now learning that travel does not have to mean flying to the other side of the planet. A walk around the block will do. It's not how far we go in miles that counts, but how deeply we allow the world to enter us.

The importance of even the humblest travel was driven home for me during the 1970s, when I was a teacher at Camp Hi-Hill, an outdoor education school in the San Gabriel Mountains above the Los Angeles basin that served sixth-graders from the city of Long Beach.

On one night hike, the students huddled around me. “It’s just like the planetarium,” one boy said as he craned his neck to view the star-studded sky. A classmate was equally dumbfounded by the crunch of freshly crusted snow. She had never seen snow before, still less heard the sounds of walking on it.

Our students learned the names of local trees and birds and the facts of photosynthesis during their week on the mountain. But I hope they also discovered a new way of paying attention. That quality of affectionate attention has never been more needed (nor been in shorter supply) than it is today.

I’m an environmental journalist, and my stock-in-trade is reporting on disasters: wildlife poaching, deforestation, species extinction, and the escalating havoc caused by climate change. Often the trashing of the environment is treated as an essentially mechanical problem that can be eliminated by changing laws, conducting scientific research, and developing clean energy.

These are important things to do. But I’m not convinced that even the best regulations and smartest technological fixes will solve the problem. The real problem, I’m growing to suspect, is that we don’t love the world enough. We don’t love it, in large part, because we don’t see it. We don’t see it because we aren’t paying attention.

There is no shortage of reasons for this failure to pay attention: education that feeds the head but starves the heart; an economic system that puts short-term profit ahead of care for the planet; the toxic gospel of unlimited growth that sees a forest as so many board feet of lumber and a mountain as metric tons of coal. Not to mention all the screens vying for our attention. Many of us don’t look up from our smartphones long enough to notice what’s around us.

And even if we do notice it, nature is often viewed as a hindrance. The other day a friend called and said it was a miserable day, meaning that snow was in the forecast. To be sure, snowstorms can be harmful to those without shelter, hourly wage workers, and people with disabilities. But for me that day, news of the impending snowstorm was like a shot of adrenaline for my inner child. I hopped on the subway to the New York Botanical Garden and stood alone in an open field hypnotized by the swirling flakes, the unaccustomed hush. When I returned to my apartment several hours later, I felt oddly refreshed—as if I had just come back from a beautiful vacation.

I’ve lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for more than 25 years and continue to experience things that inspire, refresh, and connect me to the world just outside my two-bedroom apartment—though I have to pay attention. Recently, on one of my regular walks along the Hudson River, I witnessed scores of red-tailed hawks circle in a gyre above the river as they prepared for their yearly migration south. It was something I’d never seen before.

Admittedly, I would at times rather be in the woods or standing under a night sky unmarred by light pollution. My happiest days have been spent backpacking through mountain terrain. But I now realize that nature doesn’t exist only in remote places. It is also in a kettle of hawks wheeling above America’s largest urban area or a dandelion blooming in a sidewalk crack. It is also the breath moving through my own lungs.

Such events might seem too ordinary to notice—especially in a city where so much else is going on. But paying attention to the ordinary miracles of life is the best way I know to feeling fully and blissfully alive.

Some techniques cultivate this quality of attention. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation rest their awareness on the bare act of observation—watching the rise and fall of their own breathing. While formal meditation practices may not be for everyone, most of us can take a walk in our neighborhood park or by a river. We can make the effort to turn away from our restless thoughts and worries and enjoy whatever the world presents to us.

To help sharpen my own focus, I bring a notebook on my walks and jot down poems about what I see and feel. Others take a sketchpad with them, keep a diary, or take photographs. Art deepens our appreciation of the world around us and helps us to see common things uncommonly and with fresh eyes.

Other suggestions: Find a new place to travel to every day. Go as far as your legs or bicycle will take you wherever you are in the world. And don’t be afraid to put away your mapping app and get lost.

Other species migrate across continents and span oceans in pursuit of food and mates. They travel to get somewhere. Humans, by contrast, often travel to lose themselves—ecstatically—in something larger than ourselves. That ecstasy is never far from those who remain open to being surprised.

One winter day, I stumbled upon a road I had never noticed before at the edge of the Hudson River, appropriately called Marginal Street.

Off Marginal Street a concrete jetty 
where I sat with my back to the city 
and faced the river. 

The billboards, the pylons of the highway 
were behind me. 

The west was tinctured peach with evening, 
the river an icy slurry sliding to the sea. 

There are places where nothing happens 
to nobody in particular, 
where you slip into some crack in time. 

Once I tramped the globe to find them. 

Who knew you could be lost 
so close to home.

Richard Schiffman wrote this article for the Travel Issue, the summer 2019 edition of YES! Magazine. Richard is a poet and environmental journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Scientific American, and other publications. His latest book, What the Dust Doesn’t Know, was published by Salmon Poetry.

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Forest
Your New Healthy Habits? They’re Ancient

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September 23, 2019

During the predawn hours the Sun slips into Libra and Autumn begins. The Fall Equinox is a short-lived time of year when the hours of daylight and darkness are balanced. If you’ve been putting off preparations for the coming winter, set to it. The waning…
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September 2019

It’s time for a workshop!  One plus one always equals two. In a similar fashion EFT plus Law of Attraction always equals effective and positive change. Teaching Emotional Freedom...

Cost: $40

Where:
21 Wiles Farm Road
Northboro, MA
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Sponsor: Medicine My Way
Telephone: 508-523-7132
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In this 90 minute workshop you will find clarity in what brings you joy. You will create your personal vision statement that will help guide you to living a more satisfied, balanced life. This...

Cost: $25 early-bird till 9/20 ($30 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
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Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
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Witness the healing power of mediumship! Join New England's own trusted spirit medium Raylene Sousa and top UK medium Dominic Boag from Scotland for an afternoon of spirit messages. If...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Little Meetinghouse
723 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME  04062
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Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
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Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
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Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
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2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
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Members of the Reflexology Association of NH will be offering “mini” hand or foot reflexology sessions at the Salt Cave within Bien Soigne in honor of World Reflexology Week.

Cost: Donations suggested $15 - $20

Where:
Bien Soigne Salt Cave
350 North Broadway
Salem, NH  03079
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Sponsor: Reflexology Association of NH
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September 25–October 29, 2019 Expert Tai Chi instructor and Qigong Master Instructor Terry Dunn will be giving a total of four five-day intensive workshops in October 2019 at Eastover...

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
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Telephone: 866-264-5139
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September 26–29 This training at the Center for Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy to break the cycle of...

Cost: $1,390

Where:
Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
1035 Cambridge St, Suite 21A
Cambridge, MA  02141
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Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Contact Name: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
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Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

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Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
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Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
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Mirabai Starr was an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years. Her emphasis has always been on making connections between the perennial...

Cost: $20

Where:
First Parish in Lexington
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA  02420
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Sponsor: Lexington Community Education
Telephone: 781-862-8043
Contact Name: Craig Hall
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Maryellen Labelle, David Sholemson and Steve Cunningham are excited to announce Qigong for Inner Peace teacher training fall term 2019. This 50 hour certification training is appropriate for a wide...

Cost: $1100 / $800 early registration

Where:
Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
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Sponsor: Qigong for Inner Peace
Telephone: 617-721-7215
Contact Name: Maryellen Labelle / David Sholemson
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Join life coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life! During this event,...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
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Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
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This Dating Program is the follow-up to Kerri Morrison's workshop, Deliberate Dating: 5 Keys to Successful Online Romance; held Friday, August 16th, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm. View that event...

Cost: $199

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
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Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
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Learn Reiki—revitalizing self-care and healing in the palm of your hands. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (master teacher.) This one-day class covers the...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road
Framingham, MA  01701
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Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
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With Laura Haley, IET Master Instructor Trainer  This class provides you with everything you need to conduct a powerful Integrated Energy Therapy session on yourself or others (either in...

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
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Learn the benefits of yoga for families as well as how to develop character in children to get them more focused, respectful, and confident before returning back to school this fall! This class...

Cost: $45 early bird till 9/25 (includes child and a parent), $50 after

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
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Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
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September 28–29 Saturday 10 am Registration; 10 am–5 pm  Sunday 10 am–5 pm This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers students the opportunity to...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
The Hampton Inn Coventry Warwick
850 Centre Of New England Boulevard
Coventry, RI
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Telephone: 617-366-6042
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September 28–29 Learn hands-on techniques for the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the sacrum, psoas and ilium. Leave with tools you can use right away. Coming in...

Where:
Downeast School of Massage
Waldoboro, ME


Telephone: (617) 678-8920
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Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
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Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
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