Does every goal seem more or less attainable
with a number attached to it, preferably
with many zeros? Pilgrims trek 2,640,000 feet
or roughly 500 miles on trails that wind from the French
border through Galician villages on the Camino de Santiago,
sleeping in farmhouses or inns along the way.
The journey can take anywhere from 20 days to a couple
of months, depending on one’s speed and how often
stops are taken. Labyrinth walkers, in comparison,
sketch a smaller compass: a little over a thousand
steps in silence, spiraling from the outside
to the center and then back again.
Most everyone I see nowadays wears a circlet
of rubber around one wrist, which counts out the time
spent walking, running, climbing stairs, sleeping;
the rate at which the heart’s hidden engine pulses
at work and at rest. And this weekend, my brother in law
is doing a performance walk, pushing a custom-made cart
filled with drawing supplies. Walking on Route 45 from Chicago
to Kankakee and on to Urbana, the end of his journey will be
at a gallery where he intends to begin a drawing marathon,
not stopping until he has filled all 128 pages of the notebooks
he has made by hand for this trip. The title of this duration
performance is If I Could Bring You Things You Never Had—
through which I understand there is a kind of deconstruction
of the idea of both the journey and arrival. Rain has slowed
him down already; and the going is not made easy by encounters
with different kinds of surfaces, motorists, and I imagine
people who may not understand his purpose. At stops, he posts
pictures and updates: one of them about the quiet at 4 am,
another about the longing for someone to rub his aching feet.
Before he started, he told an interviewer the only incentive
that mattered in planning for a walk was that someone
or something was waiting for him when he arrived.
In World War II, when the Japanese Imperial army
rounded up men and forced them on the long march
to Bataan, 650 American prisoners of war and close to 10,000
Filipino males died before they reached their destination.
I don’t know the details of the stories, but in one of them,
my father was much younger than my brother in law, and lost
his left pinky fingernail on that walk. In this as in other
walks there is no one version of a finish line—
No one waiting with a wreath of laurels or a medal,
no one waiting in stands to cheer and wave banners.
Alone in a field, it might be possible to ask
Why am I here? How do I travel? There is no
universal stopwatch, no better or worse time
to completion— only the moment in which
the figure enters the landscape, adjusts
the straps or handlebars, puts one foot in front of
the other; willingly does so again, and again.
In response to From His Back Door to the Outhaus is 150 Miles.