As I have previously mentioned, I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but I have to admit, there is something about a new calendar year that triggers some innate desire in me to become more organized.
This annual ritual manifested itself this past week in my going through old photo albums, weeding out photos that had become so faded as to be unrecognizable, those that were redundant, and even a few that reminded me of times I'd rather forget. I had long been concerned about the strain that this ever-growing collection was placing on the closet shelves.
As I sorted through my photos, something became immediately apparent: I have traveled a lot over the years. This started early in life, when I was a mere passenger on my parents' journeys, but continued throughout my adulthood, when I was the one charting and steering the course.
I still travel as often as I can, now with my partner, but in looking at my old photos, I found a special satisfaction in recalling the trips I took by myself. Maybe this is nothing more than a bit of smugness, since so many of my friends have lamented that they'd like to travel, but have no one with whom to go. But I think it's more than that.
I have always had a case of wanderlust, that delightful word of German origin that means a strong desire to travel. I am often thinking about, and planning for, that next trip, even if it's years away.
There was a brief time when I became concerned that I was using travel to escape something, but I soon realized that was not the case. Escape is wanting to know less, not more. Travel allows us to learn — about other people and places, and if we permit it, ourselves. There is so much to learn, and I want to learn more.
My period of solo travel took me to some places that would be at home on any list of tourist destinations: Toronto, Ontario; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the stunning national parks of Utah.
But there were a few trips that raised some eyebrows, such as that week in October when I rented a cabin in the woods in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, or the year I flew out to Winnipeg, Manitoba for a week of exploration (I was told more than once that even Canadians wouldn't think of vacationing in Winnipeg!).
A lot of my friends didn't understand why I wanted to go to some of these places, or why I wanted to go anyplace by myself. They would utter that word — "You're going alone?" — as if it was some sort of medical condition to be avoided.
But what I found over the years was that if you want to truly get to know yourself, it's best accomplished without the company of others.
Along the way, I met some wonderful people, learned about different places, and saw many beautiful sights. Others may have scoffed at some of my choices of destinations, but I will never forget the simple beauty of the Manitoba prairie as seen from a train, endlessly reaching toward the equally expansive sky.
Nor will I forget the mournful sound of the wind whistling through Frijoles Canyon in New Mexico, as storm clouds gathered on the horizon and I sat alone, feeling so insignificant and so powerful at the same time.
And then there was my stay in a tiny cabin alongside the Spanish River in northern Ontario, where I had gone for a retreat. I had the privilege of seeing the aurora borealis light up the night sky and the next morning was awakened by the sharp crack of a beaver's tail slapping the water just a few feet from the cabin's door. I looked out into into the early-morning fog, feeling utterly content in the solitude of the moment.
I am enjoying travel now from a different perspective, with my partner, and I hope we will be fortunate enough to continue to travel together throughout our remaining years.
Travel is exercise for the soul.