Travel: Figurative and Literal

A large envelope had been jammed in our mailbox. The thin cardboard container, the size of a placemat, was curled and bent in a crescent shape, its corners dogeared, forcing me to fold it some more to extract it. Sure enough, printed in large-cap red letters was the warning, “DO NOT FOLD.” With a sigh I carried my mauled piece of postage home, wondering what damage I’d find inside.

Fortunately its contents weren’t too badly marred. A nicely embossed certificate, indicating I’d received Honourable Mention for a nonfiction piece I’d submitted to a literary competition. I was chuffed, and spent a good minute straightening and flattening my prize. The essay was, in a manner, derivative, albeit derived from previous work of my own. A brief, first person travel narrative recalling a Gone Viking excursion. One, like so many, in which I was traversing rugged coast between mythic historical sites. At that time, in that place, I was struck by the oft-used analogy of the imitative properties of life and art, each on occasion preceding and inspiring the other. I was surrounded, ensconced, in metaphor: the journey, a voyage, searching, movement toward or away from a thing, all encompassed in travel, the verb and the noun.

The piece, which I call Metaphoric, was picked up for publication by Sojournal, an Australian magazine out of Sydney, each published piece concise mixed media: a single black and white photo to accompany each story. The result, I believe, like all monochrome work, is provocative and deeply sensory. Somehow the absence of spectral colour enriches engagement, stripping away redundancy. Less flash, more substance.

So to inspire and simply to share, in appreciation of all those involved in bringing this story to light, albeit softened in greys, I give you this nod to the art and the wonder of travel. With thanks to our #GoneVikingCommunity.

Metaphoric

I stood on what felt like the edge of the earth. Which it was, in a way. Cusp of terra firma. Beyond, nothing but sea and sky. I’d hiked a hundred miles to get here. Not all at once, but over a staggered series of walks, climbs, and rambles. An undulating coast path written about by countless authors – dreamers, novelists, poets – all equally awed, feeling as though we were seeing this land, these vistas, for the very first time. Undiscovered terrain, irrespective of how many times each of us had passed through. A trap that’s ensnared me countless times. Experiencing places, even familiar ones, anew. The magic of exploration through blissfully unjudging eyes.

A red-billed black chough clung to a grassy green slope. Gannets dropped, plummeting into the sea from the sky. And a handful of gulls soared as though posing for canvas, artist and palette unseen. But sensed, and felt. Not merely close but connected. Observer, observing, observed.

What brought me here was, in part, my ongoing Gone Viking saga. One I’ve written about, off and on, for two decades. Exploring the globe, tracking footsteps of those having passed before, and those yet to pass. Nomadic pursuits. All with a relative purpose, finding gaps in a plot and plugging the holes. Constructing a new mosaic. Tapestry. Underlying stories that inspire it all. Pulling at threads to see where they started. Where they are. Perhaps even where they are going.

The path on the coast, at this point, follows a cliff. A wash of soft seashore pushing at sandstone and granite, climbing into slate and basalt. Ancient earth, poised by a timeless sea. Shush of breakers rolling on shore, pulling, pushing, erosion and buildup of continents, a chronometer measuring epochs.

If I’m being honest, I was utterly lost. Hubris, however, coaxed me to confidence. Of course I knew where I was, big picture, what with the ocean and land. The sun more or less plotting a course, letting me know east from west, subsequent north and south. So, not lost lost. But there was no longer any sign of a path. Nor a trail. Or any indication of a directional sign. Just me knowing precisely where I was in the world but without any notion as to how I could, or should, proceed. It was, in a way, a definition of life and its endless array of crossroads.

And so, with an amorphous blend of certainty and not having a clue, I carried on, knowing it would all be okay. Resolution. Perseverance. Resolve. The path not only vanishing sand underfoot, but wholly metaphoric as well.

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.