0001 The First Step of a Very Long Journey (USA 001—new)
Selinsgrove Travel Blog› entry 1 of 28 › view all entries
Day 001: 4 hours, 7.0 kms
One Thousand Years Ago…
One thousand years ago, travel was difficult and dangerous in the land of my ancestors. There were few bridges across the mighty rivers and no police to defend travellers from robbers lying in wait alongside the muddy, rutted paths. To travel you had to be hardy, determined and courageous.
There was a class of people who braved these daunting trails, going from village to village all across the continent. They were not armed bandits going to rob and plunder. Nor were they proud lords, surrounded by a small army of guards and servants. They were humble musicians and poets whose mission was simply to earn their bread by entertaining the local villagers with their stories and songs of far off lands.
Generally these wandering minstrels were received with great excitement—as these isolated villagers had little contact with the rest of the world and anyone who travelled in those days was considered very brave. These musicians provided entertainment—but also brought knowledge, imagination and new ideas imbedded in their jolly songs and fanciful tales. You could almost call them Ambassadors of Culture providing a link between the peoples scattered across the vast continent ofEurope.
The poor peasants and townsfolks were grateful to these minstrels—compensating them in whatever way they could… sometimes with money, sometimes with food, lodging and provisions. As a result, the minstrel life flourished for centuries, and this lifestyle continued in some form or another for almost an entire millennium.
Whether these itinerant musicians were passionate about their “mission” to discover new songs and ideas, and share these with the world or just trying to eck out a living, I really don’t know. My guess is that the dream of most of these wanderer’s dreamed of being hired on as a permanent entertainer for a lord—a much more comfortable lifestyle to be sure. Whatever their motive, it’s clear that they provided an important link in that fractured period of history, connecting cultures that might otherwise have not interaction with each other.
…The Present Day
Things are a little different these days than they were back then. Nowadays, you can sit in your comfortable, air conditioned bedroom, and with a few clicks of a mouse, hear songs, see images and learn about cultures from every corner of the globe. If that doesn’t satisfy you, you can save up money, get on an airplane and within hours be in practically any country in the world, observing firsthand its culture and lifestyle. Then you can fly back home, and continue on with you life with the greatest of ease.
So, as you can imagine, if a wandering minstrel were to show up in the town plaza nowadays singing songs of faraway places, he will probably spark very little interest in the local population, jaded with so much new information, music and culture they have available to them. In fact, this itinerant entertainer might be looked down on as a misfit of society, who should just go get a “real” job, and travel in his vacation time like everyone else.
There are still those who see it as their “mission” to share new ideas, songs, stories, and culture. But these people now use the much more efficient tools of the modern age—the internet, radio, TV, film, and mass distribution to get their ideas out to the world. All this can be done from the comfort of your home or office—in fact, you don’t have to travel at all in order to share new songs or concepts with the world.
The life of the wandering minstrel has all but faded into history.
I was born a thousand after the first medieval wandered the forest paths ofEurope. I also grew up feeling that it was my mission in life to share new ideas with the world through music. I spent years learning about other places and cultures, and writing down my observations and creating melodies to transmit these messages.
My dream was to live as the minstrels of old—earning my living by playing music, and discovering new things along the way. At the same time I was terrified of the thought of being all alone out in the big world, with no money, food, or shelter—at the mercy of the lowlifes of this world. A couple of times I overcame this fear, grabbed my guitar, passport and cash and headed out to the world to pursue my destiny. But invariably within a few day or weeks I would find myself heading back to my comfort zone, with empty pockets and my tail between my legs. The idealistic life of the minstrel just didn’t seem to be working out for me.
So in the early years of the 21stcentury, I started to get settled in and accept that the closest I might get to being a wandering minstrel was by uploading my songs on the internet or singing at a local coffeehouse. But when I attempted to do these things, I knew something was missing. I knew that to sit at my desk recording my songs, and then punching a few buttons on my keyboard was a hollow substitute living out my destiny. I had to figure out a way to release my inner minstrel if I wanted to live the life that I was born to live.
And then one fateful day, in the summer of 2007, I just picked up my guitar, headed out my door and started walking. I had no idea where I was going—just that I had a fire burning inside me telling me that to take my music out to the world.
A Discreet Beginning
When I walk out my door that fateful Sunday morning, the 15 of July, I’m not at all sure that this whole wandering minstrel thing is going to work. In past years, I’ve had several sudden, crazy ideas which I’ve lunged after with shameless bravado, burning my bridges and bidding my farewells, determined to dedicate the rest of my life to this new project. Then, a few miles down the road I find out that the fire has died out and… well… maybe this isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life after all. I then end up going back to where I started with my tail between my legs, and having to give some rather awkward explanation.
It’s my day off work. All I say is that I’m going to go for a drive to get some fresh air. Something any normal person would do on a Sunday morning. I have with me my guitar, camera and an extra shirt. My plan was to be home be the end of the day and go back to my run of the mill, middle class American Life. Depending how things went I might try this again on another day off work… and maybe gradually make the transition to a true minstrel lifestyle.
I get in my car and head down the road, quickly trying to decide which direction I’ll go. I want to start my journey in an area I’ve never visited before in my life. Since I’m already a bit familiar with what’s to the east, west and south ofHarrisburg… it looks like north it will be.
I’m driving down a highway that follows a stunningly beautiful river gorge, I find a strange sense of alertness to all the details of the world around me. It’s a wide river with steep hills and cliffs on either side topped with thick, lush forest. It seems strange—I’ve lived here inPennsylvaniafor almost 7 years, but I’ve never really noticed how beautiful this part of the world is. But I do now… because now I am a discoverer, an explorer in search of earth’s hidden gems that I can then pass on to others.
Then I glance over across the river to my left, and something bizarre catches my eye. It’s a statue, maybe6 feethigh on the pillar of an old, fallen down railway bridge across the river. And I get a sudden jolt of recognition… I’ve seen that statue before! But no… I haven’t… The statue is of a woman wearing a long robe holding a book in her left hand and raising a torch in her right hand.
Of course, it’s the Statue of Liberty.
But isn’t that statue supposed to be, like, really, really tall? Isn’t it in the middle of a bustling harbour? Why is it only6 feettall and in the middle of a river surrounding by cliffs and forests?
It’s a surreal moment—it almost feels like this Lady is welcoming me to a New World of Discovery. A World where there’s something unexpected around every corner.
Searching for Civilization
The highway continues on a bridge across the river. Then I take another road that continues to follow the river on the other side, with my eyes peeled for clues to help me understand this exciting World I’m exploring. The landscape is still rural, but there are some random businesses along the road. The first one that catches my eye is a pornographic bookstore--something that seems really out of place in this idyllic forest environment.
I’m enjoying the natural beauty, but I know I mustn’t get distracted from my objective: to find a town, explore it, and play music there. I soon come across a row of houses along the highway. Some of the houses look quite quaint and picturesque-- throwbacks to the pre-modern era. I slow down to see if this looks like a good place to stop… but I don’t see much of any activity going on or anywhere I can walk around, so I decide to continue on.
A few miles down, I see a sign that says “Selinsgrove”. I’ve never heard that name before—but it looks like it should be a decently large town. So Selinsgrove will be the very first town of my Musical Tour of the Entire Planet.
Discovering my First Town
Within minutes I reach the edge of town and park my car, figuring it would be better to enter the town on foot. That way I can take my time soaking in every single detail of this place. I walk along a quiet sidewalk, with large, somewhat shabby houses on the side. And then the scenery suddenly changes and I’m on a cheerful and quaint Main Street, lined with a variety of colourful shops and eateries. It’s a pleasant surprise—I usually think of American Main Streets as being dilapidated, slowly dying strips of real estate that are being slowly abandoned as people opt to do their shopping in boxy, redundant corporate owned department stores. But here, it almost feels like I’ve travelled back in time, maybe 50 years to the era whenMain Streetwas the heart and soul of the American town.
I quickly realize that on this journey, I’m going to have to put aside all assumptions of what I think I know about this country and this world, and simply observe with an open mind. And my observation here in Selinsgrove is that people really want to preserve theirMain Streetas the “soul” of their town.
The First Concert
Main Streetends abruptly and I find myself in a residential neighbourhood with your typical single storey American homes surrounded by yards. Then I reach a small park, with a couple of benches where I sit down to assess the situation.
I’ve only seen 1 or 2 people so far on my tour of this town and there’s no one here in the park. But this seems to be a good a place as any to pull out my guitar and do my little minstrel concert. The question is: if there’s no one to listen to me, is it still a concert? Can I still honestly say that I’ve “shared my treasures” with this sleepy little town?
I’m just have to give it a try to find out.
I strum and sing a song… remembering the days when I used to play in front of crowds of people, hearing their applause at the end. Those were good times… Singing to the same group of people week after week, singing songs that they wanted to hear…
Quite different from my solitary concert here in Selinsgrove. But there’s something magical about this moment. This is a concert I know I will never forget for the rest of my life. Today I share a little piece of my soul with this town which I will quite likely never visit again. I have come. I have discovered. I have sung. A musical bond has been created between me and this town which has a mystical significance that I can’t quite grasp with my conscious mind. All I know is that I want to do this over and over all around the world.
And then I remember… ah, yes… the camera…
I need something I can take with me as proof that this moment took place. Otherwise it will only exist in my memory—and memories can be tricky and dishonest sometimes. So I take a videoclip of myself sitting on the merry go round, strumming my song.
And that is it. I have “planted my flag” in Selinsgrove. I have discovered what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Continuing to Explore the Town
As I continue to wander through town, questions flood through my mind… What will I do when it rains? In the winter? How will I explain this new lifestyle to my family? How will I be able to hold a job and support this new “hobby”? What if I lose the video clip? What about places where playing music in public is frowned on or where it’s dangerous?
I don’t have answers to these questions. I’ll I know is that I’m going to keep going and figure things out along the way.
Part of me wants to just rush off to the next town… but I know I have to set the right precedence, and make sure I explore Selinsgrove thoroughly. Sure there’s nothing really special—but that’s the beauty of this whole project: I’m not just doing the “tourist circuit” of the planet… I’m visiting ordinary towns and seeing ordinary people—and finding something unique and special in each place.
I come across an old 2 storey school building with a windvane in the center. It’s definitely more unique than the merry go round—and it’s a puzzle piece that tells something of the history and culture of this town. So I prop up my camera and take a video clip of myself playing my guitar in front of it. From there I head on back towards Main Street, past a gray, stately post office… and on to the east side of town to look for just a few more memorable spots.
I cross a bridge over a stream and suddenly… cars, cars as far as the eye can see.
So here’s where all the people are!
Apparently it’s some sort of open air antique market, right alongside the river. There are ancient rifles, Indian headdresses, rustic colonial era furniture and decoration. I don’t know how authentic it is, but the prices sure seem to suggest so! And there are lots and lots of people.
I stroll and soak it the pleasant neighbourly atmosphere, people watching. Folks here are all Caucasian and seem to be your typical small town, conservative, Republican breed. But you’d think that these people would be in church on a Sunday morning, not out shopping for antiques. But once again, I’m not going by assumptions any more.
It seems that this is “the spot” for meeting up with your friends, catching up on gossip and browsing through the treasure that have been stored in people’s attics for generations. Its like a place for connecting the present with the past.
Then something odd catches my eye. An older fellow pulling a wagon with two dogs in it—and the dogs are wearing American flag bandanas. I find this intriguing because, in much of the world, the national flag is considered somewhat sacred, and dogs are considered somewhat dirty—so you don’t ever combine the two. Here it seems, dogs are also held in very high esteem—so it must mean that to dress up your dog in a flag might be a way of showing your love for your country and your flag!
It’s such an interesting contradiction, that I feel a sudden urge to capture this moment, forever. I ask the fellow if he can take a video clip of me playing my guitar next to his dogs. I explain to him that I’m making a music video and I think this would make a cool clip. He seems pleased at the idea, and within minutes I have immortalized this discovery.
Selinsgrove just seems to get more and more interesting.
Finishing my First Town
I walk slowly back to my car, trying to hold onto this moment as long as possible. I’m afraid that as soon as I get into my car, this Dream will suddenly vanish and I’ll be back in whatever routine I was trapped in back in the Real World. Although I’m just starting to figure out this place, this seems to be a realm where I am free to move about and be whatever I want to be… and I want to hold onto this for as long as I can.
So I decide to continue on up the road to look for another town to hopefully repeat this experience that I’ve had in Selinsgrove. I’ll discover something new, play some music, take a video clip and immortalize that moment.
But that will be a new Scene in this Dream. The Selinsgrove Episode has come to an end. But perhaps it has been vivid enough that I’ll be able to relive it again and again in my memory for the rest of my life. As I reach the car I review the dozens of moments that I hope to preserve… the river gorge… the mini Statue ofLiberty…Main Streetin Selinsgrove… my first concert in the park… I hope to revisit this Scene many times in my mind.