I’m wondering if anyone has done a sociological study on modern travel’s impact on people. Because surely this power we have– that of waking up in one place, city, state, even country, and, after a few quiet hours’ sitting, waiting, walking some, and claiming baggage– to find oneself in Another Place Entirely must have a Significant Impact on society.
It Must. And it must have a significant impact on persons– perceptions, understandings of space and time, distance, culture. We can’t go leaping about the earth’s surface, adjusting (or not) to time zone changes, climate changes and the like without it having Some Effect.
The difficulty, I think, in doing a study like this is that it would have to be (and here I exhibit, I’m sure, my dim understanding of sociological studies) a comparative kind of study, for which one would need a culture that doesn’t go leaping about the earth’s surface. But that would require time-travel: you’d have to go back in time to get someone like Pa Ingalls for a study like that, and I’m thinking that the sudden shock of time-travel on Pa’s system would sort of ruin him for your study. Maybe you could do a study like this with a contemporary, someone who doesn’t like to fly, or with someone who never goes on long car trips, or, say, an Amish person– but all of us live in a culture wherein this kind of thing Can and Does Happen, whether or not we all take part in it, so I don’t really think we can find a “clean sample,” if you know what I mean.
Maybe no one has done a study like this because it can be argued that a study of this kind isn’t merited. Maybe most people– maybe all of us– take this willy-nilly leap-frogging around in their stride. We all understand (to one extent or another) the modes of travel, the road and railway systems, the flight schedules that make such movement possible. We understand, too, the rotation of our planet and the rising and setting of the sun, the consequent changes in time zones and the differentials between time-in-transit and what-time-will-it-be-when-I-get-there. We all have our methods of dealing with travel and jet-lag and sleep deprivation and remembering (or forgetting) one’s toothbrush.
So then why, I ask you, does it So Completely Throw Me? What is it about my not-so-very-extraordinary make-up that finds me reeling after only a weekend away? And it’s not just fatigue, so don’t try that. I mean, it was an exhausting weekend: we were at the airport at 5 a.m. on Friday and then again at 6 a.m. on Sunday, between which times we saw Almost My Entire family of origin plus two cousins and their wives and my Dearest Aunt and my first-cousin-once-removed-and-god-son Sebastian. Plus we attended a wedding (Hooray, Ben and Vickie!!!). Plus a rehearsal dinner (that was a Good Time). Plus we stayed up Way Too Late visiting with Emily and Janke because, really, can you blame us?
And in-between we (sometimes) tried to steal some sleep and we sat by the fire in my parent’s living room and we visited with our dear friends the Bramsons (my mother served breakfast for 19 people) and we went for a walk down to the beach, following the same path I’ve followed to the beach for the last thirty-two years of my life, the one I know so well (even in the winter) that I could follow it with my eyes closed.
(Have I mentioned that the water in Little Peconic Bay is even more blue in the winter than in the summer, and that the blond reeds at the water’s edge sway stiffly in the wind? The leaves of the oak trees, which have in some places fallen, scrape their way across the sand and are the color of rust, and the crabs have all gone away. And the wind that so often in the summer makes that roaring sound in the Collins’ trees is there in the winter still, pulling at the oak leaves that still cling to the branches, and all of it can make your heart ache with memories of the summer and at the same time for it to always look like this: your beach in winter, where the blond and the rust of winter makes the water look oh! so blue.)
And then, after All Of This, we are home again. And in no time at all– indeed, in just about the same amount of time it took to get there– I have found time to sweep our decks and rake all the leaves from our yard, to unpack the clothes and to (with Bill’s help) set up our Christmas tree. And in the amount of time we were away, I have already had a day and two nights here in Durham, and have taught my students for yet another day, and have even endured an overdue visit to WalMart.
The Daily consumes me. The residue of this recent and brief trip wasn’t even a glimmer in the rear-view mirror as I pulled away from the school parking lot this afternoon, fumbling for my phone even as I made the left-hand turn. But when I opened it, here was a surprise: a message from my cousin; he has sent me a photo, and I think it’s the one he told me about, the one he sent last week but that I didn’t get, of Sebastian playing in the snow.
Then I open the photo, and it takes me a minute: what’s this? Oh, there, you see? A little evidence on my cell-phone: it’s Bill and me and the children and Janke, standing there in the sand, only just– was it?– two days ago now. We are wearing our coats and our skin is colored amber from the light of a three o’clock sun. And there, in the background, is the Collins’ dock and the winter-blue water of the bay.