wonder • wander
a collection of thoughts, musings, and milestones
“By convention there is color, by convention sweetness, by convention bitterness, but in reality there are atoms and space.” --Democritus (c. 460 – c. 400 B.C.)
There are spaces between everything. We know that from basic science lessons. Molecules are not connected. Nothing is solid. There are gaps between everything. Synapses. I am a creature who is most alive when hovering over a gap, landing, surveying, and taking off again.
The Unknown is what I know best. It’s reliable. I know it’s there. For me, the power and discoveries that exist in the unknown beckon me…onward! My curiosity about the magic and mysteries and information that lie ahead repel any sense of fear. I embrace the idea of the unknown. It propels me into the adventures that create my life. There are those who are reluctant to explore the dark, distant, and indistinct aspects of life on our planet. Many cling to the edges of free-floating fear and live lives dictated by conservative convention and practical rules rather than by the concrete knowledge that nothing is solid. Gaps are everywhere. They divide and join everything. And falling into gaps and climbing free and leaping safely over gaps are some of the reasons I love my life so much.
The ground isn’t solid. Marriage isn’t solid, not all friendships are solid and not many careers are solid. It’s simply and scientifically true: The Universe is not very solid. And by extension, solids are only relatively more solid than liquids which are only relatively more liquid that gas…
At this particular crossroads in my more than seven-decades-long life. I am focusing on the other side of some identified and unidentified gaps. And I am preparing to journey to them, explore them, cross them.
I want to breathe my way around the world again. I want to excite my senses with that which is still foreign to me. I want to catapult myself into new realms of thought.
I want to navigate my way over, under, around, and through the gaps in my understanding of the world and world cultures.
Sometimes, in my dreams and fantasies, I sense--or imagine--hands reaching across the seas, inviting me to be part of something bigger than the good Life I have here in New Mexico with my community of friends and family and activities. At seventy-seven years of age, I recognize that parts of me are moving (slowly, surely) towards an inner stillness…and still, I find myself driven by a strong voice of longing and a recurring caw, caw, calling from that familiar unknown; the mysterious unexplored—commanding me: “Move. Onward. Now!”
There are two big mirrors in my bathroom. In the “KIND” mirror, with soft light coming from behind me, I look quite attractive—at least by common standards for women of my generation. In the other mirror, the “MEAN” mirror, I look like a desert rat with the wrinkled face of the woman I have become as a result of the lifestyle choices I’ve made over the decades. Mine is not the face of a pampered, well-cared-for or self-caring woman born with good skin. My super-pale, melanin-deprived skin has had the misfortune of belonging to an impatient, think-about-it-tomorrow, truth-defying and truth-denying woman of an advanced age whose independent decisions led to certain ancient-skin results.
For decades, through continued misuse and neglect, I failed to protect the largest organ in my all too human body. Avoiding the sun, always wearing a hat, slathering on moisturizers and sunscreen have been sorely neglected aspects in my daily routines. Today the neglect is so evident that I am disinclined to confront my face in that wicked, telltale mirror. Fortunately, I have been far more diligent in protecting my still healthy inner organs. Proper exercise, good food, low stress and lucky genes have served me well.
I take a deep breath and sigh and say aloud, “This is how things are, Durham. So, what are you going to do about it?” I have some ideas. To start, I can refuse to linger in those good mirror/ bad mirror realms and instead devote my time to universal good “mirroring”.
“Home is the hunter (wanderer), home from the hill (country)”. Thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson (for the cadence) and apologies to scholars for the plagiarism.
A picture may be “worth a thousand words” ---or more--- but a road trip through Texas, is worth an infinite number of words. All my senses were in full alert as I traveled along a few of the highways and byways of The Lone Star State. I heard the trains… “And when”, I asked myself---because I was alone---"did trains get so incredibly loooong!?” At one railroad crossing in Fort Stanton, I waited for almost five minutes while the tanker and container cars clacked by and by and by. I smelled the feedlots---and I asked myself (chastised myself) again, “why do I eat meat?” I tasted migas for the first time in a long time—in three different restaurants. (Note: migas are best when the chips are crunchy.) I saw a sign on a billboard advertising “World Famous Beef Jerky”. Who knew there was such a thing! I imagined someone in Fiji or Finland feasting on and commenting about the fame of that special brand of jerky. (“It’s famous, you know.”) I felt the wind and the rain and the sun---all Texas-sized.
If I were to write an epic poem about my trip---or even just one of those long poems one struggles to read on parts of two pages in The New Yorker---it would have to include some (or all) of these elements: 1) A bloated dead Black Angus cow on its back, with four feet sticking straight skyward---as if “playing dead”, I thought, smiling to myself because…it wasn’t playing! There was so much road kill along those miles. Caused by people in a rush, I guess…and animals in states of confusion. I “encountered” a doe and a buck bounding across the road right in front of my car…a reminder to drive carefully and to pay attention. 2) Empty, boarded-up, burned- out buildings where small businesses once flourished. Big box stores standing at the edges of towns…3) Hawks and ravens and, to my delight, one cardinal (because then the rains came and the birds hid in trees beyond my view). 4) A herd of antelope—such graceful, shy animals! 5) A portly, off-balanced man, in a red plaid shirt, on a steep incline, fastening a huge American flag to an equally big sign reading GUN AND KNIFE SHOW THIS SATURDAY 6) Beautiful stretches of road, marvelous rocks and ridges, some rivers…tall grass…Nature. And then, a sign for a housing development: Paleface Ranch---and I wondered who, in the world, would want to live there? 7) A gardener collecting small flowers to garnish meals at the fancy Spa. 8) “Keep Out” signs. “Trump” signs. “Wrong Way” signs. “Exit Only” signs. All signs of our times.
In that remarkable nine-day journey, I saw a thin slice of Texas---which is also a thin slice of America. It wasn’t, by any means, a true cross section…but it did give me some insight into the vastness and diversity of the state and the beautiful people who inhabit it. And it gave me some solo time to consider the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of this struggling country which continues to conquer dangerous and confusing crossroads.
My personal creed for life developed early--on the playgrounds of my childhood. It was in mastering the monkey bars and conquering the see-saw, that I gained early confidence and uncovered nascent indications of creativity and determination.
MONKEY BAR MANEUVERINGS
On the Monkey Bars, there is an exquisite moment when you must take a swing of faith and trust yourself to travel onward. Let go from behind, swing forward, hold, let go from behind, swing forward, hold, let go…You must let go of what is behind if you are intent on moving forward. Navigating the monkey bars, like navigating life, is all about rhythm, courage, and the gravity-defying aim of making your way across to the next place, to the other side… Good metaphor, isn’t it, if progress and success are what you’re after? If courage is favored over fear?
The unorthodox see-saw maneuvering of my long-ago youth indicated an aspect of my personal style. Most kids shared the see-saw with another friend—preferably a friend of a similar weight. The two teeter-totterers would sit facing one another and go up and down, using their feet to launch themselves upward, over and over. That was not my see-saw way. No, I preferred to mount the see-saw in the middle, straddle my legs on either side of the fulcrum, stand tall, and lean my weight sharply from side to side to control the movement of the see-saw. Challenging balance. Right, left, right, left. Balance. The rule of my solitary exercise was to maneuver the see-saw back and forth, as fast as possible, pushing both sides perilously close to the ground—without bumping. Of course, sometimes, I bumped. Always I recovered my balance.
From those teeter-tottering playground experiences, I learned that, in big life, bumping is inevitable. Also, the act (the gift, the talent) of letting go is something to hold on to…
“The world is but a perpetual see-saw.” Michel de Montaigne
Linda speaks about WONDER at Creative Mornings Santa Fe
If you arrived at this page after submitting What You Wonder About, your message has been anonymously submitted to Linda.
Below, you can read all about the Wonder Postcard project and browse some of the submissions received.
I am forever wondering about things and some of my best wondering has taken place as I was wandering from one place to another or journeying through an atlas or leaping across road maps. I frequently wondered what other people wondered about. I posed Wondering Questions to my friends and family:
“I wonder what would happen if…
”I wonder why…how…when…who…what…”
And soon this wondering took shape in the form of a solitary road journey. First, I created a simple white postcard. On one side was the address of The Wonder Institute. On the other side was the beginning of a sentence, “I WONDER ABOUT…” I printed five hundred cards, purchased five hundred forever stamps, got in my trusty Outback and hit the road.
I wandered through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and back to New Mexico. I took back roads and by-ways. I stayed in “Motel 3’s & 4’s.” I wandered in and around college student unions, coffee shops, food markets, parks and when it seemed comfortable or not-too-intrusive, I approached individuals and introduced myself: “Hello, my name is Linda and I’m with The Wonder Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’re conducting a national survey to see what is on people’s minds…and I’m wondering if you would be willing to take one of these postcards.“
- Click through the postcards below -
Wonder & Wander
A collection of thoughts, musings, and milestones from author, wonderer, and wanderer, Linda Durham.
Copyright © Linda Durham 2021 | Site Design by Angulo Marketing & Design
Linda Durham is a human rights advocate, adventurer, author of Still Moving, The Trans-Siberian Railway Journey, An Art and Friendship Project, and a Sixties Manhattan Playboy Bunny. She is the founder and director of Santa Fe's Wonder Institute, which sponsors art exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and salons focused on discovering and implementing creative solutions to contemporary social and cultural issues. For more than three decades, Durham promoted New Mexico-based artists as the hands-on owner of contemporary art galleries in Santa Fe and New York.