Monday, October 18, 2010

A Freedom Life

I just finished reading Peter Heller's 2004 book Hell or High Water. It's the story of a group of kayakers going someplace very few have gone before, a dangerous place, perhaps even a spiritual place. Heller tells the story from his perspective as the writer from Outside magazine. As such he is an outsider yet one who has been on enough adventures and written about them, to be able to give us quite an insight.

There are a number of intriguing story lines that Heller uses. The adventure of running the Tsangpo River in Tibet, the personalities and quirks of the kayakers, a little of the political and historical side of Tibet and China, hope, and greed. As usual he manages to weave these together until, at the end, you realize what he was trying to do.

Toward the end, he had the following paragraph that says much about him as it does of the others on the adventure with him.

I passed 100 prayer flags strung on a wire over the creek with the morning sun shining through them and thought how adventurers, the truest and the finest, were the least encumbered people I've ever known, had the least to protect. The rest of us acquire not just material things but also education, careers, advancement, everything entailing politics and caution. We acquire lovers, spouses, children, homes. We repeat the moves that have succeeded before, and eventually, security triumphs over risk. The seven paddlers didn't own anything. Most of them didn't even have a car. Most of the time, they had no steady girl to go back to. They collected nothing but stories. Maybe freedom really is nothing left to lose. You had it once in childhood, when it was okay to climb a tree, to paint a crazy picture and wipe out on your bike, to get hurt. The spirit of risk gradually takes its leave. It follows the wild cries of joy and pain down the wind, through the hedgerow, growing even fainter. What was that sound? A dog barking far off? That was our life calling to us, the one that was vigorous and undefended and curious.
I think that resonated with me as I continue to be more aware of the aging process facing me, and all of us. I could see how we all lose the spirit of risk and off in the distance there may be, if not a dog barking, perhaps a train whistle headed out over the prairie or through the mountain gorge, a symbol of that restless freedom. I don't know what happened to the other adventurers on Heller's journey, whether the paragraph above describes it for them or just his view of it. But for me, I hope that within whatever boundaries and limits I face, there will still be that element of self-interest, undefended, and above all, a curious life.

-Link to Hell or High Water website.

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