Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Praise of the Nomad

Before I went on vacation to Arizona and New Mexico, my therapist (that's a whole other long story) mentioned how important it is to get away. She noted that humans were, after all, originally nomadic. I hadn't (a) known that or (b) looked at holidays that way, but I think she was right. My two weeks of nomadism cracked open my brain like an eggshell. Maybe it had something to do with all those impossibly huge skies you get in the West. And the lack of phones and televisions and computers.

In the southwest, Apache tribes were nomadic. They moved between the sun-bleached hardscrabble lowlands, the cottonwood-lined arroyos that fill when it rains, the cool cave-riddled mountains covered in pines and sycamores. Though the threads of their traditions may have been cut, no one can stop songbirds, butterflies, and dragonflies from maintaining their migratory cycle. Habitat has been destroyed by humans, yet still many species are able to follow well-worn paths of migration, somehow finding just enough food, water, and shelter to meet their needs -- sometimes in landscapes that look as hostile as one of those molten vistas Salvador Dali created.

I've never been into having a lot of possessions. They make me nervous, and I'm suspicious of the illusion of permanence they create. One of my favorite activities is paring back, shedding, bundling things up for the Goodwill bin. So it brought me joy to see the masses of migrating birds and insects alighting on the nearest twig or stem and calling it home, fully committed to the idea, even though it would be for only a few wingbeats of time.