Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happiness, Magical bugs and Green

The updating begins again in earnest now that I am back on the bike!  In the column to the left you can find links to my new videos (including the sky lantern ceremony, which was awesome!), my current location and photos of the whole trip.  In the column to the right, you will see my updated trip statistics.  I am also working on updating my route, which you can view by clicking on the "Route & Itinerary" button above.

Two more days of biking in the hole!  Lots of new photos from the past week, in two new albums which can be reached by clicking on the thumbnails above, or by clicking here


Happy people are too content to be worried about helping the rest of humanity. This is what I realize about myself after having several weeks of utter contentment here in North Carolina. If you are happy and well and cool with the way things are going, then you probably aren't thinking too much about the way things are going for the rest of humanity, because that makes many of us depressed. Success and satisfaction don't tend to motivate us to reveal our strategy to those who are struggling. Doing well simply encourages us to keep doing whatever it is that we are doing that makes us feel like life is good. Imagine if all of the happiest people in the world were to jot down their thoughts and advice and suggestions for how to be content! But simply giving them that assignment might add to the stress they feel, therefore no longer making them the happiest people. Sometimes I feel like I am one of the happiest people, like I should somehow reveal my strategy to those who are suffering or stuck in a rut. But when I am honestly and fully content with life, I usually don't feel motivated to write something that I intend to share. I usually don't feel motivated to write at all, but instead, to keep doing whatever is is that is making me happy.

I watched a couple of movies in the past few days that made me wonder about the happiness of the people who wrote them. Both films were filled with longing and misplaced love and meaningless action and misunderstandings. They made me realize that the folks who took the time to write such stories must not be all that happy. I often feel that artists and authors and musicians seem to be some of the unhappiest people, and that their unhappiness is what helps them to be so interesting and successful in their careers. Sometimes, I ironically find myself jealous of their unhappiness, which seems to be a key part in helping them to write good songs or stories. Perhaps happy people are destined not to be as good at the arts simply because they get to be happy instead.

When did people start worrying about the entire rest of the world? When did the first person realize that their actions affect the rest of humanity, as well as all organisms that reside upon this planet? Certainly there was a time when most people were unaware of the size and complexity of our planet. There was a time when people could not travel around the world in a day, when most folks were only aware of their small communities and had but a vague notion of the world “beyond.”  Did the limited ability of people to travel great distances increase their desire to take care of their local communities?  Is this factor still in play today? 

Now, it is not unrealistic for me to set a goal of spending a night in every single country in the world before I die. Even on a bicycle, I could conceivably do this. Has anyone done this? Is there still a “first” left in the world?  


     Last night, I witnessed one of the most beautiful, inspiring and rare natural phenomenon on the planet. At the hint of a friend the previous night, Jessica and I modified our travel plans to head to Elkmont campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After finding a campsite (yay for camping on a Wednesday!), we took a smooth, brisk hike through the woods, stopping to take a dip in the Little River and get photos of waterfalls, wild roses and interesting fungi. Winding our way through all manner of green, the forest was alive with springtime.
     After returning to our camp just as the light began to fade, we grabbed some layers and the tools necessary to cook dinner, and headed up the hill to an old cemetery at the end of the campground. There, we sat and cooked and waited for darkness to set in so that we could witness the event that we had come for. And soon, slowly, it started. A little light in the woods, followed by another, soon became a symphony of brilliant sparkles, dancing to a silent rhythm in the dark forest. Synchronized fireflies only exist in one place in the world, and this is it. Their show baffles scientists and thrills tourists, like us, as they blink their way into the hearts of all who witness their magic.
     When I first heard “synchronized fireflies,” I thought of the light shows in Las Vegas, with bulbs blinking and water splashing and flames shooting up, but the fireflies are not showing off for money. They are doing it for love! And the light they produce is incredibly efficient. As we watched and moved around to get closer to the displays where thousands of flies blinked, I tried to pick out patterns or predictability, but their really was none. The flies don't all blink at once, but several hundred blink at the same time, followed immediately by several hundred others, scattered across large areas, giving the impression of tiny, synchronized strobe lights at a dance hall, lighting up in waves and vibrating to the beat. But there was no music; almost no sound whatsoever. And then they would all go dark at the same time. The forest would look as if there was nothing there until a few started up again, and then, on cue, the hundreds would start all at the same time, but in new locations, with new rhythms, and new timing. We watched for nearly two hours, and in the final spot which we chose to sit and watch, we were the only humans around. We could not see or hear anyone else. Only the dark of the forest, and magical sprinkling of pulsating, living insects surrounded us. It was a spiritual experience which I will never forget, and which we hope to go back again and watch tonight!

In addition to the intense emotion that this fabulous display inspired, earlier in the day I also moved out of my room at Mountain Trail Outdoor School. Lots of hugs, positive emotions and a few tears preceded my departure. It was a wonderful season, filled with excellent people, beautiful surroundings and great experiences.


     I've just finished my first full day back on the bike in nearly 4 months, and I'm exhausted! After a couple of nights in the Smokies, Jessica and I headed to the Unitus festival outside of Gruetli-Laager, TN. With a theme of “camping, connection and consciousness,” Unitus brought an interesting crowd. I was a bit disappointed in the organization and turnout of the festival, which is only in its second year, however, it was still a wonderful experience. Great musical acts from bluegrass to rock to electric violin were high quality and a welcome variety. Also, an electronic DJ station set up in the forest made for a good atmosphere to dance and socialize.
     The highlight of the festival was the sky lantern ceremony on Saturday night, which was facilitated by Dixon's Violin, a one man electric violin act which moved the crowd with every song. Chinese sky lanterns are like miniature hot air balloons made from rice paper. They have a bit of fuel (cloth dipped in oil) attached to some strings across a hoop at the bottom of the balloon, and once lit, they take to the air quite happily. Every festival attendee was given a lantern, and they were all lit and released in a short span of time, with Dixon guiding us to let go of something in our hearts or minds that we don't need anymore, making space for something new. As hundreds of lanterns filled the sky, I almost started to cry. I took many photos. It was incredible.

I have never been anywhere more green than western North Carolina. The trees of a thousand different varieties, the grass, the flowers, the vines growing on everything; all green. I saw so many little homesteads with big vegetable gardens, farm animals wandering around, and a cozy home tucked into the edge of a forest. This would really be an ideal place for a small-scale organic farm, with so much beauty and so much water. The riding was pretty hard, considering I pedaled 3670 vertical feet (cumulative) over the course of the day, but never got above 3000 feet in altitude. Up and down was the name of the game, and with a full load fresh from the grocery store, my legs let me know that I am not in the same shape I was when I arrived in North Carolina.

1 comment:

  1. In reference to the post on happiness: What exactly is happiness? How does one qualify it? What makes you happy may make another person quite miserable. You spend countless hours on end in the wild; for some people the idea of walking barefoot on grass even seems distasteful, let alone living austerely in the woods. Regardless of ones "standard" for happiness, even the happiest people must endure difficult seasons in life. Every human being has endured the pain of loss, the flames of anger, the walls of frustration, waves of helplessness,the profundity of sadness and the inevitability of illness. It is all a matter in how one processes these experiences, and transforms them into their web of inner and outer consciousness. In and of itself, is not being happy a boon to those around said happy person? As Ghandi said, "Be the change that you want to see"--is your happiness not what you so wish to extend to "the rest of humanity"? You claim happiness, yet in that, you find a source of discontent within it by feeling that you are not doing enough. Is that true happiness?Cannot one contented person's ripples send out an infinity of effects, and that person never even know their wake? Is that not enough?
    My experiences have led me to believe it is not so much the earth we should be as concerned about saving, so much as ourselves. The divine majesty of this planet existed much before human beings, and will continue on, with or without us. It is impossible for one individual to tackle the immensity of problems we have created for ourselves as a species. Is it not best that we live out our lives in the mode we best see fit, following our hearts, and living our dreams as best we can according to our abilities? Does that constitute a happy person? If so, in finding happiness, one is also making a very profound impact on every being he/she encounters, perhaps in ways known, perhaps not. Not to confuse contentment with complacency--which you seem to imply come hand in hand. One can still find happiness and make an active difference, no matter how big or small. It brings to mind a quote I like very much:
    "Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you. ~Mother Teresa