Monday, April 6, 2009

Preparing for a Trip and A Day In the Life

Day 1 has come to an end, and I am comfortably accommodated by kind friends.

I ought to step back and describe life in the weeks since my first post.

The pace of the last few weeks has been frenetic. I have contacted hundreds of different organizations, individuals, companies, farms, and government agencies to set up appointments along the walk. Engaging with many different kinds of groups will be essential in understanding many different strategies and practices of land conservation. I have endeavored to plan a path and accommodation for each day, though some confusion about "group campsites," which require a dozen or more campers for reservation, has created some difficulty. I've also been trying to coordinate with Stanford professors, journalists, and others hoping to meet before, during and after the trip. My room has been brightly lit for several 14+ hour days of work (a mere nothing to investors and doctors in residence... but more than I prefer...), bringing to bear those alienating elements of the city, often traced by pastoral historians, in contrast with the Range of Light. The brightness of Ellison abutting the brightness of Muir. It has been a strange and contrary practice to prepare in such detail for an event that is not an event, but truly life lived in a somewhat different way for a while, and has elicited a strange and confusing nervousness.

One result of apprehension, excitement, and weariness in planning this trip has led to some rambling rhetoric, seen in today's posts. Muir too may have had his moments of exhausted gushing, sermonizing from stone pulpit to flower congregation.

While there is still some planning to be done, much is complete, and it is relaxing, if somewhat tiring, to finally be out the door. With that, I offer a brief protocol for "A Day In the Life."

Step 1: Wake Up!

This is not as easy as it sounds. Up late packing, a little nervous, or perhaps just uncertain, about the novelty of what lay ahead, I had some trouble falling into the few hours of sleep I had time for. Indeed, few have been on this kind of journey before, leaving advice, precedent, and expectation difficult to find.

Step 2: Breakfast and Prep for Departure

In cooking breakfast, checking my backpack and room for everything (already I have realized a few things left behind), and getting set to leave, it occurred to me how many details of the trip are difficult to consider beforehand

Step 3: Goodbyes

Saying goodbyes to friends over the last two days has helped the reality of the trip ahead of me sink in, but also confirmed concerns that it will be a lonely road.

Step 4: Start Walking

At last, walk to the train station. But what's the point? This question keeps coming up. Why walk, why not approach questions remotely?

There are good reasons to walk. As I mentioned in my first post, walking is a way of compressing data, like mapping or research. It uses specific parameters of time and distance through which to view and analyze a problem. While being in a certain place for a certain time clearly has its limitations, walking is only one component of the project. In theory, walking combined with various kinds of reading and map work before and after the trip will be complementary in the data they provide.

Much of conservation is place specific, and walking allows the specifics of place to more easily enter in. By having a chance to develop impressions through walking in addition to looking at data and literature, specificity of place will come into sharper relief, and offer a more clear picture of appropriate management.

Walking also allows a time and place for speaking personally with people. This too adds perspective and depth to what can be discovered remotely.

In a practical sense, walking helps draw attention to the project and the important issues surrounding conservation. I imagine I would have a harder time meeting and conversing with groups if it weren't for the allure of the walk, and journalists would be much less likely to discuss the drier points of land management without a good story at work in the background. One of my goals for the project is to increase awareness of potential for private individuals, landowners, and groups to have a positive impact on conservation, and the walk as an event provides a banner for this goal.

Finally, I often draw an analogy between walking and reading. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury discusses the importance of reading, explaining what sets books apart from more passive forms of expression. A book, he says, can be put down. In between the pages of the book, the reader can pause to insert his or her own thoughts and ideas, or grapple with those posed by the author. Walking is much the same, allowing for pause and consideration of the landscape, rather than inscrutably rapid motion over it.

Step 5: Look, Speak, Write

I spent the morning walking through San Francisco and Oakland, observing carefully. Tomorrow I will have a conversation with the San Francisco Estuary Institute and East Bay Regional Parks District at their offices in Oakland. I have spent much of today, and likely tomorrow as well, writing about the experiences so far. Observing, conversing, and writing are three of the major practices I can accomplish on the walk to help understand conservation in California.

Step 6: Sleep

I cannot wait.


  1.! pictures! lotsa pictures!...

  2. Hi Alex! Good luck on your adventure -- we look forward to hearing your stories from the wilderness. You're going to come back with as much knowledge as Survivorman!
    Gina & Kate Magnuson

  3. You are starting an incredible adventure...good luck!

  4. Alex you ask why walk. I imagine it was retorical, but the answer is simple. Because Muir walked. At least that's what Donna and I realized as we did our 2006 walk in Muir's footsteps. You have lots of time to ponder things when walking. You have time to really see things when walking. For me walking in Muir's footsteps brought him to life. I could dialog with him in my mind. Have fun Alex. Walk and talk to Muir, and listen carefully to what he tells you, write it down or else you will forget. That's my advice. (I hope you don't mind advice.)

    Your friend

    Peter Thomas