Traveling without moving

We go places even as we sleep.  We visit other universes without taking a single step.  We surf the web and experience the world from our office chairs.  We speak to friends and family only to find afterward that we’ve delved to deep reaches and flown to great heights.  In all that we do, we travel without moving.

Thus has been the last ten days for me.  An introspection as it were, a respite, a hiatus from blogging that allowed me to come and go at will sans need to worry about xenogere.  A trip to the stars, a visit to an ocean’s abyss, a walk in places which are alien to me.

I admit…

…after losing my job last November I fell into the depths of depression.  I hated that job.  I needed that job.  The economy isn’t exactly in a condition to offer a great many alternatives.

…at the end of 2009 I “met” someone who quickly placed me atop joy’s pedestal and within six months quickly dashed me against the rocks of reality’s disappointment.

..I fell in love for the first time in six years.  That love soon revealed itself as unrequited.

…the truth of what I’d become since Derek’s death in 2004 hit me in the face, and I discovered I very much disliked the new me.  But after spending so many years forcing personal evolution, finding my way back seemed like an impossible road to navigate.  But I knew it needed to be done.

…so many things changed these past seven plus years since I began blogging.

It rests here: we cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.

And somewhere in this crowd of journeys I lost my way.  Paths torched behind me, I straddled the center line because the road ahead was too dark to navigate.  I hid in the shadow of historic smoke and future light because what lurked just beyond the least of these frightened me.  I stood back from what is and what could be so I didn’t have to face the real world.

There is a Latin phrase, “in consiliis nostris fatum nostrum est”, which roughly translates to “in our choices lies our fate.”  Thus is the best definition of my traveling without moving.

So begets the new me, the new xenogere, the new future resting just ahead.

Blogging is not a thing to be terrified of until it falls by the wayside.  No, it’s something that once frightened me but now calls to me like an old friend.

xenogere still lives.

Undiscovered islands

Long have I served as the navigator to undiscovered islands.  For more than seven and a half years I have guided myself on a journey with no map.  Much to my surprise I found others following, reveling in the discoveries, enjoying the travels, waiting for the next experience.  Thus is the public nature of blogging.

Through the writs and images here, I have met some of the most influential people in my life, some of the most important people in my life, some of the best teachers I could ask for, and some of the dearest friends I never expected.  I have learned and I have taught.  I have seen much and I have shared a fraction of that through this blog.

As catalysts go, xenogere ranks as one of the most influential in my life, a personal endeavor I began cobbling together in December 2002 with the idea of practicing my writing and providing a communication medium for friends and family.  But it took on a life of its own.  The depth and breadth of the experience grew to encompass far more than I thought possible—or had even imagined.

Throughout this intellectual exercise I have seen life and death in all their splendid glory and all their horrific terror.  I experienced the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows.  And I learned that sorrow is joy unmasked, that the wellspring of happiness is the selfsame chasm from which pain erupts.

Throughout this journey I have learned more than I could foresee when I began.  At the birth of xenogere, I could not have differentiated a great-tailed grackle from a common grackle, I did not know a cuckoo wasp from a sweat bee, and I thought any snake in the water had to be a cottonmouth.

Throughout these literal and metaphorical travels I have seen the best and worst of people.  I found that some wear the internet like a mask so they cannot be recognized as they troll the world looking to tear others down in an attempt to lift themselves up.  But I also found that some wear the internet like a beacon so they can be recognized as they attempt to experience and appreciate this global bounty.

Throughout the personal interactions made possible by xenogere I have discovered kindred spirits worldwide.  There are people out there who approach every personal encounter with the goal of teaching or learning, or the goal of making both parties better for the time spent together.  There are people out there who see nature as art to be appreciated and protected rather than a disposable resource to be squandered.  There are people out there who practice reason and compassion out of habit rather than for selfish ends.

Yet one belief I hold firmly is that all things are made to be broken, that all things end in time.  Hence more and more of late I have contemplated xenogere and the whole of its life.  I have wondered if—or perhaps even assumed that—the time had come to focus elsewhere.  I still have unfinished book manuscripts.  I have travels that dangle like carrots in front of my face.  I have energy that seems destined to push me in other directions.

This feeling of wandering through the final moments of blogging has had me asking if there are no more undiscovered islands.  Has the hour grown late?  Have I lost my way in the twilight of blogging?  Or more simply, have I been at this so long that I’m burned out?

It behooves me to admit that my recent wasp experience was as close to death as I have ever been.  Melodramatic as that might sound, it’s quite true.  My reaction to stings grows exponentially more severe each time it happens, and three at once had me stumbling along the precipice.  Such moments have a way of making us look differently at the world.  No, I didn’t find any gods in the experience, though I do admit wishing for the skeletal hand of Death to pull me away from the worst of it.  And in the end it did give me pause to consider things in a very different way.

At the behest of full disclosure, I must also admit that the potent mix of medication I have to take in response to that medical emergency has always caused erratic and dramatic shifts in my mental and emotional states.  Because it will be several weeks before I finish the regimen, now is not the time for any major decisions.  The heavy fog through which my thoughts now travel could easily lead me astray and leave me lost; therefore, I must not act but must instead wait.

Nevertheless, I cannot deny what I have felt these past few months.  Is this all?  Am I done?  Do I now stand in xenogere’s autumn of years, limbs turning bare and life migrating to other places?

This will be the final post here for a few weeks.  For now, I am simply taking a sabbatical.  I will use this time to focus on getting better.  I will use this time to ponder where I intend to go with xenogere.  Perhaps rest is all I need to discover a newfound passion for this, to realize there are yet more undiscovered islands to be found.  Or perhaps I will discover a permanent silence.  In any case, I’ll post an update on or about August 7.

To those who visit, who read, who comment, I say this: Thank you!  All other remarks from me would be dry platitudes falling at your feet like dead leaves.  So again, thank you.

And to those whose blogs I follow, I’ll still be haunting your digital doorsteps.  What happens here changes nothing about what happens there.

Meanwhile, take time to look for your own undiscovered islands.  Nature is full of them, life is full of them, the cosmos is full of them.

On hold

For now, xenogere is no longer in service.  There is one more post I intend to write.  I need at least a few days to finalize that entry.

Then we’ll see where things go.

Mostly I think things are going toward silence.

Pugnacious polistes

As a young child I would cry when a bee or wasp stung me.  What little kid doesn’t?  At that age, the injection of venom feels like the end of the world.

Then I grew older and learned to ignore the pain.  It became inconsequential, a barely noticeable pinch, a slight burn that lasted no more than an hour.  By then I was playing many an afternoon in the garden catching bees and wasps with my bare hands.  I never really understood what the game was about—despite it being a game of my making—but I always knew how the game ended: when my hand was too swollen to close around the next insect.

When I reached puberty, however, all that changed.  I developed a deadly allergy to the sting of bees, wasps and ants, a twofold dilemma that includes an allergic response (anaphylaxis) and an immune response (sepsis).

Yet despite the very real threat, I don’t fear things that sting or bite.  When a bark scorpion stung me twice several weeks ago, it was because I was trying to pick it up so I could show it to a friend, only it was in an advantageous position that made me an easy target.  All sorts of stingy and bitey things live around and visit my home, and we get along just fine.

Heck, I live in the middle of a massive colony of one of North America’s largest wasps, eastern cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus), and I spend a great deal of time sitting in the middle of the swarm, provoking them to perch on me, handling them at every opportunity, observing every facet of their short lives.

But in general what I don’t like are paper wasps.[1]  My experiences with them have taught me one thing: as a rule they are unpredictable and belligerent, always ready to pick a fight and always ready to put the hurt on you.[2]  I like watching their nests from a distance and I don’t mind individuals getting close to me, but en masse they’re too disagreeable for my taste.[3]

What with names like Polistes bellicosus and Polistes comanchus, not to mention Polistes instabilis, even the scientific community recognizes their contrary nature and tendency to sting first and ask questions never.

Which brings me to last October…

A nest of paper wasps (Polistes apachus) (2009_10_18_032568)

I was wandering around the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area when I spied a large nest of paper wasps (Polistes apachus).  Colloquially they are known as Apache paper wasps, a name meant to imply something about their collective personality.

I was being good and staying on the trail.  They were being good and staying on their nest, which was hanging in the brush alongside the trail.  Being a smart fellow—or at least a fellow with his personal safety foremost on his mind—I used a telephoto lens to grab a few shots, then I gave them a wide berth as I passed.

A nest of paper wasps (Polistes apachus) (2009_10_18_032575)

I returned along that trail about an hour later after exploring the mostly flooded riparian paths.  As I walked back toward the car, I could see things had changed.  The wasps were agitated.  At least half of them buzzed through the trail as if looking to pick a fight.  The other half hurried all over the nest.

And not too far away I could hear a child crying from where the trail intersects the path to the camping area.

A nest of paper wasps (Polistes apachus) (2009_10_18_032578)

I made a mad dash through the swarm and came out the other side with nary a sting.  As I passed the camping area, I pretty much felt certain I understood what had happened.

A young boy sat cradled in a woman’s arms, his mother I assumed.  He had several noticeable stings on his face, arms and legs.  I stopped long enough to ask if they needed me to call for medical help.  The woman assured me that he’d be OK, that he wasn’t allergic.

Then almost in a whisper she said he was learning a necessary lesson the hard way.  “Next time he’ll know I’m serious when I say he shouldn’t get too close.”

I would agree.  From the welts still swelling on his body, it looked like a painfully memorable lesson.  And selfish though it was, I couldn’t help but be grateful that it was him instead of me.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Not all species of paper wasps are angry little creeps looking to pummel you at the first opportunity.  Polistes annularis is a good example.  These large and intimidating critters are pretty docile.  I can get close to them without worry.  But that’s an exception to the rule since most paper wasps are just damn crazy mad.

[2] To relay a story my mother told: She walked outside at the family farm and stepped to the edge of the back porch.  She did not know paper wasps had built a nest right under her feet.  They swarmed out from under the porch and attacked her legs.  She received more than a few stings.  Keep in mind my mother is a small woman and she couldn’t possibly have caused that much disruption simply by walking over the nest.  But it was enough to piss off the wasp population.

[3] Yesterday I ran into a collection of my archenemy, the red wasp (Polistes carolina).  Their nest had fallen from a tree.  A friend and I came upon it unexpectedly.  This is the only species of wasp to sting me since my allergy developed, a total of three stings since the early 80s.  Yesterday, however, they upped their ante: they stung me three times at once.  That equated to more than eight hours in the emergency room.  And now it means having to cancel a vacation in early August as well as a surprise trip to Canada next week when I intended to meet someone I really want to spend time with.  I can’t promise that the whole of P. carolina will pay the price, but you can bet they’ve made the most inenarrable day of my life an event to remember—and they certainly made the list of enemies to be dispatched by me at any cost.

Mexico – Part 1

The plane lands in Tuxtla Gutierrez six hours after leaving Dallas.  Within minutes we have our luggage, and soon thereafter we find our way to the bus that will carry us to San Cristóbal de las Casas.  The air hangs heavy and humid over us, more tropical than Texas yet not quite as tropical as we expected.  It feels almost refreshing.  Almost.

Aboard the bus, faces greet us with smiles and nods.  “Hola,” one man says, his face wrinkled with time, and “Bienvenidos!” a woman adds, her eyes glowing with genuine affection.  Though clouds hang heavy as the next tropical wave passes nearby, faces in this cramped mass transit fill the air with radiant light.  We shake hands, grin, offer repeated thanks.

Preciliano and I fall into a pair of empty seats.  We settle in and wait.

As the doors close and the bus lurches forward, the driver crosses himself, an act that I find both curious and troubling.  Voices fill the confinement in which we find ourselves.  Motion, sound, watchful eyes glancing to and fro.  Part of me worries.

Only as we enter the two-lane road that leads to San Cristóbal do I comprehend the netherworld that I find myself in.  And my mind begins to wander.  How many trips like this have I taken with others?  How many alien places have I visited with those who mattered most?  What ends of the world have I seen with loved ones by my side?

Part of me weeps for what I’ve given up these past six years.  Part of me wants for what has been sacrificed.  Part of me wonders about what was gained and lost in the six months since December 2009.  Part of me wanders a landscape of introspection and delirium.

Just ahead of us clouds rest upon the land like wet cotton.  When Preciliano grasps my hand and points to an old man walking along the roadside, I’m shaken from my thoughts and drawn back to the real world.

Almost too quickly to notice, we pass him as he walks at the road’s edge.  His hair is white with age, his body slumped with years, and upon his back is a load of flowers too beautiful to ignore.  With only a quick glimpse, I wonder if perhaps I misjudge them.  The flowers glow from stems a yard long, or so I think, and the whole of them rest tied together with rope as if slaves to the eyes that appreciate them.

And as quickly as he is seen, he vanishes into the mist that hides existence.  So we continue forward.

The bus climbs through the mountains.  At the precipice of world and sky, a young girl—Tzotzil Indian perhaps?—tends a flock of black sheep along the roadway.  How picturesque a scene it makes.  How comfortable and indigenous.

A rebozo slung across her back reveals a pair of dangling feet, tiny flesh limbs hanging from the indigo-and-red cloth that holds the baby.  Even as the clouds envelope us, the woman and child and sheep look like so much abstract art painted on the roadside.

I can see no more than 20 feet out the window.  The world is lost in fog and shadow.

The bus careens into the earthbound clouds.  Suddenly we are hidden as we climb the mountaintops into the heavens toward a place I’ve never seen.