“Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down.” ~ Thoreau
According to the trusty Wikipedia, the walkabout is a rite of passage for male Australian Aborigines coming of age where they would live in the wilderness for a period of time, usually 6 months. Interestingly, in the same passage, this definition may have been misinterpreted by the white employers of the time and the Aborigines may have just needed to get out of town for a few days and were leaving regardless of the employers’ desires. I’m paraphrasing, of course.
For most of my adult life, I have felt the need to just leave. To pack up my belongings, toss them in “storage” or purge them, put my crap in a backpack and land my ass somewhere that I’ve never been before. It usually happens rather quickly- though the restless buildup can happen months in advance and becomes enhanced if the words “salary with benefits” are thrown down or “year-long lease” is associated with my name. Many have thought this is my running from something or my inability to commit, and honestly, at times that is sometimes the case. But more often its the overwhelming desire and need to seek the unknown, an insatiable curiosity. To test my boundaries and see just what lies ahead for myself when I chuck the conventions of normalcy and just open myself up to the world.
During my time at UNC, I was able to merge this wanderlust with my photojournalism studies and discovered the beauty of grant money. I was able to diversify my walkabouts to India, Nepal and the Middle East and direct my wandering around social issues that I felt I needed to document and experience to better understand the world and my place in it. During these travels, I met many people embarking on similar walkabouts, though their motives were different, they traveled without encumbrances and itineraries and possessed such varying and enlightening perspectives of the world. It seems that the community of wanderers is growing and I’ve met lifelong friends on these excursions- even though our time together was brief, we shared a common bond of travel that instantly connects two people.
A Foot in Both Worlds
One dilemma that us wanderers encounter in our “settled” lives is that very few people understand or can interpret this desire to just go. I’ve been told I have many afflictions, that I’ll never marry, that I’ll grow out of this, that one day I’ll meet that perfect person and the wanderlust will cease. And frankly, sometimes I want to believe. Sometimes. But the longer my feet stay planted in the “settled” world, the crankier I get and the more cynical I become. And truly, the only thing that alleviates this is leaving. Not a vacation, not a resort get-away or a weekend ski trip. But leaving. No return ticket, no itinerary and no real idea of where the adventure will take me, just that it has to happen.
I have a few friends with this similar affliction and recently we coined this term the “October Syndrome.” For the restlessness is unbearable this time of year. Plans fly, craigslist gets worn down and I check Emirates airlines and Amtrak for cheap tickets daily like its the Weather channel and I’m awaiting a blizzard.
What I’ve found interesting over the years is the number of people who are always asking me what’s next. The past several years have been more sedentary for me with returning to academic life and trying to fund this lifestyle through commercial photography and multimedia. And as people become more disillusioned with the modern situations and dilemmas they find themselves in, more people are asking what I’m doing. My mom’s friends in particular are always asking her, where is Crystal now and what is she doing next? I think they want to join me or at least try a walkabout of their own.
I find those questions to be a motivator and they provide piece of mind, when at times I am seeking a little. Before I embark on the walkabouts, people ask me to share the stories, to write them down, to tell them a few tales when return.
This latest walkabout was actually a relocation and when it began, I had no intention of wandering (which is why I am wearing clogs in 6 inches of fresh snow!) but as soon as I boarded the Amtrak in South Carolina, I realized that I missed the train travel and I had grown a little soft in my sedentary life. I missed the wandering.
So, it occurred to me that now is the time to embrace the Web 2.0 and now the tools exist to truly share these adventures with people who are interested. This blog is going to be devoted, in part, to the art of the walkabout. My interpretation of it, of course. For I do agree with the Wikipedia definition. Sometimes I just have to go live in the “wild.” For me, the wild is the unknown aspects of community, those little towns that have no real rhyme or reason and who have some odd conflicted relationship with the past and its own modernity. Sometimes, the “wild” is the chaos of the developing world or the chaos of an urban landscape. Sometimes, the “wild” is just chaos itself. I crave the “wild” and I need the walkabout. And I will share this madness with you and you can judge for yourself whether you need a walkabout of your own. Or if you just want to enjoy the journey from afar.
“It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return– prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man–then you are ready for a walk.”
From Walking, by Thoreau