The story of my life is a story of wandering, from as far back as I can remember. Even as an infant being born I must have wandered into this world from some mysterious elsewhere. As a youngster I didn’t feel that I belonged to my family or indeed that I had any connection of any sort to anyone. I was rootless, at loose ends, and filled with restless and urgently-felt longings which I could not identify. This was largely due to the influence of my father, a strict and domineering man who, while extremely intelligent in some ways, was completely lacking in tact and sensitivity, harbored appalling prejudices, and was astoundingly oblivious to the needs of his own family.

Being a child and having no other experience to compare this to, I had no idea that the family situation I found myself in was pathological in any way. I only knew that I felt profoundly lonely and had a restless urge to seek something else, but what I sought I didn’t know. I had no words and no concepts for what was happening in my own life. My life consisted of only two things: there was my father, and then there was everything that was not my father, which was basically all of space, the whole wide world. All of my experience in my early life was dominated by this polarity. My own daily living was a wilderness in which I wandered in search of something meaningful, trying to find my way, to find some kind of path through my own life. I was an outward-seeking thing, aimless, alone, feeling as if I were suspended in the middle of a void. Already as a young child I was coming to realize that everything interesting and meaningful was happening elsewhere, in the far distance, and that maybe through wandering I could find those things that would give my life meaning and substance.

When I was a child I recall us living in several different places in southern California, all in the greater Los Angeles area. My father never felt content to live anywhere for long, so we moved a lot. But everywhere we lived I found places to walk and explore by myself and tried to do so as often as I could. Sometimes I went with my young friends but my preferred way was to go it alone. In the southern California town of Brea, as a kid of 12 or 13 my wandering reached new levels of adventurousness. I was inspired by the beautiful vistas of hills and mountains surrounding the valley in which we lived. I sometimes spent whole days on long climbs up into the highest hills, the highest points I could reach, to where I felt close to the sky and I could just see the Pacific Ocean glittering in the sun far off to the west and the pale misty range of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the east. I wouldn’t say my long treks up into the hills were undertaken ambitiously because I had no goals, simply a persistent urge to go as far as I could. I was just wandering, but my wandering had become vast, at least to me. Very little of my childhood and adolescence has stayed with me after all these years. Mostly it consisted of a neurotic kid’s petty fears and resentments, and painful social awkwardness, now long since consigned to the mind’s trash pile and not worth the effort to try to remember. But what was the most important thing, the really crucial thing, about my life back then were the times when I was surrounded by hills and blue sky, everything was bathed in light, and I was aimless and free to explore.

Many years later I thought of these experiences when I encountered this passage in a poem by A R. Ammons:

“how could you, walking in the mts,
be as big as the mts: only by
wandering: aimlessness
is as big as mts”

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