not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
The British Isles terminate in the Shetland Islands, a small archipelago of windblown and sheep-infested outcrops to the northeast of the main island, an asterisk of land that might make a tired map-reader look for footnotes in Antarctica. The largest island, simply called “Main Land,” is large enough, but as you proceed north the islands get smaller and smaller, the population shrinks, the ocean expands, until you find yourself looking out at Out Stack, a small profusion of rock that marks the northernmost point of the isles, and would be impossible to reach even if it were habitable. The traveler that proceeds by boat from there will encounter the North Pole before he sets his eyes on solid ground again.
In my travels through Britain, I never managed to get to the Shetland Islands, not that I made much of an effort – in many ways, it’s more isolated from Britain than Britain is from America – but I would by lying if I said that I didn’t begin eyeing them as the Winter Solstice approached. A view of the end of the world on the shortest day of the year seemed oddly appropriate, but I didn’t have enough time or money to spend on flights of fancy, so I let my imagination wander off with the idea rather than hold it in a part of my head that was actually in use.
Today’s Daily Post asks a question that tends to come across my mind every once in a while, not enough to interrupt my otherwise comfortable and rather sedentary life, but enough to get me looking out the window with a particular expression in my eye. The closest analogue I can think of is the character Rat in The Wind and the Willows, always idly dreaming of the sea until he is one day seized with the compulsion to go, and Mole has to sit him down and make him tea until the feeling passes. I have a periodic desire to see the lonely and haunted ends of things, to travel through a country toward some extremity and watch civilization slide off the land like moss growing in the ever-shrinking crack of a rock, to enter a land that wishes to shake me and mine off its face like a giant brushing away crumbs. Why? Ask Edmund Hillary; I have neither a good reason nor any concrete plans to make the trip. Fun as such a jaunt might be, the books that surround me provide a more profound escape than any to be found in the Vast Anonymity.
But if I were to break my life down to a single car (a windowless van, I’m thinking, large enough to hold 6 feet of bed, but otherwise as small and fuel-efficient as I can find), I would immediately head for the extremities. The wilds of Alaska, the ancient heritage of St. John’s, and then probably a turn southward to the Cape of Good Hope, ending when I get killed about halfway through Mexico. I fully admit it’s not the most practical plan.
But I’ve traveled a bit, and the one constant I have noticed when I travel is that I tend to fall off the map, to find side streets and board the wrong trains, to become less and less substantial the longer I remain on the road. My sister has a blog where she documents her travels, and for me the most impressive thing about it (in a series of impressive things about it, it must be said) is her ability to talk to other people, to have something to say to them, to become as substantial in her traveling as she is in real life. The longer I stay on the road, the less I seem to belong to the people around me, and the more those endpoints I constantly seek – the points where we vanish from the map, enclosed by the hand of nature – seem to finally resolve in my own person, and I can walk through crowds quite invisible to the people around me, just barely obtrusive enough to keep anyone from treading on my toes.