The 1960’s folksinger Tom Paxton penned some memorable songs but it was “Ramblin’ Boy” that seemed to speak most to me. You’ll find it on the flip side of his 1964 debut album. After the songs “I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound” and a provisional answer in “I’m Bound For The Mountains and the Sea”, you hear this –
While we’re not talking T. S. Eliot-level poetry here, in 1964 it was definitely a cut above “She loves you – yeah, yeah, yeah”! With Woody Guthrie as his model, Paxton was romanticizing the lives of the 1930’s Depression-era hobos riding the rails across a broken America in his very traditional folk song which sounded like it had been written long decades before.
I was about seventeen when I discovered Woodie Guthrie’s autobiographical Bound For Glory at the public library and that book – and Paxton’s songs – made a big impact on my developing sense of the world. it may have been the Summer of Love and “acid” in San Francisco but the songs of Woody Guthrie and Tom Paxton spoke more directly to me, a miner’s son growing up in a hard rock town in northern Quebec.
I’ve had the rambling’ boy bug all my life. I had it when I was five years old and hanging on to the inner tube of a car tire along with my friend Veshu about a fifty meters from the lake shore where our families were picnicking. We were on our way to a nearby island when my father swam up and very carefully pulled us back to the beach!
I still have that ramblin’ bug sixty years later. It has shaped the things I love to learn about – i.e. all of the humanities from languages to world history to world religions to anthropology, politics, and economics. It has definitely shaped the things I like to do with my spare time – wilderness canoe tripping, bicycle touring, hiking and mountaineering, and working out regularly at the gym so that I can do all that other stuff and enjoy it.
It has ushered me into some incredibly beautiful (and maybe even sacred) places where few get to go because of the time or effort required. Not everyone has the ramblin’ bug and they have used their time and money – and their good health – to indulge in other pursuits. That’ s just the way it should be. But for me, there is nothing like the feeling of standing at the end of the road or the side of a railroad track with a backpack or canoe on my shoulders…and knowing that the adventure is about to begin!
Without getting overly philosophical, I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in some of these recent adventures, as well as show some of the pictures I took along the way.
The teacherly tone that comes from thirty-five years spent in front of mid-to-late teenagers in various classrooms will occasionally be evident! If my posts encourage other travellers to step out of their front doors and embrace what has so far been unknown to them, that would be the best of all!
Every once in a while, as I look at maps and surf the net for another place or two to walk or paddle and pitch my tent, I think of Lao Tzu, the legendary Chinese sage and writer of the Tao Te Ching. One poem in particular, # 47, comes to mind. It reads like this –
Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the way of heaven.
The further you go,
the less you know.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you understand.
The Sage understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.
“Hey, true_north, where do you think you’re going?” he says to me. “Don’t you know that you’re already there? All your ramblin’ is only taking you further away from this obvious truth.”
And then I think back to his own life. The collection of poems we know him for only came to be because a border guard insisted that he write down the essence of his wisdom before he left the Middle Kingdom and continued towards the Himalayas on his water buffalo.
I want to shout out to him – “Hey, Lao Tzu, where do you think you’re going?”
After crossing the border he was never heard of again. Lao Tzu – the ramblin’ boy!
Eliot’s Four Quartets is one of those places I’ve returned to often to pitch my tent! Here is one of my favourite sections –
Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
Off we go!
And as Tom Paxton put it forty years ago – May all your ramblin’ bring you joy!