Monday, June 14, 2010


When you fly from one city to another, it is a lot like getting off an elevator: you never really know that you are someplace else. The door closes on one scene and then just opens on another. The intervening distance doesn't seem quite real.

When you drive, the reality of distance becomes a bit more obvious. You can see the scenery slowly shifting as you move from one zone to another, as trees shift from one type to a completely different one, flowers and fauna are not quite the same as the ones you left behind.

When you walk, it is rare that you notice any change, unless you are walking for days, and even then the shift occurs so slowly that you tend not to notice it as it is happening. It is sort of like the frog in the pot.

While I love walking wherever I can, driving is generally my preferred form of long distance travel. Well, that's not quite true. Bike or train or boat, not a cruise liner but a real boat, are actually my preferred forms, but I don't think I'll ever get to own a train. A boat maybe, but not a train. And taking a boat across Canada is a bit difficult at times, at least if you're going east to west. Biking is do-able, but too time consuming for me.

No. I really like driving across country. Perhaps that is why I have spent so much of my time doing it since I've moved to Winnipeg. Now I get to fly to Victoria for a week, come back, and then make the same trip in a car a few weeks later.

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I am looking forward to both journeys.

I've also been reflecting on these journeys, as I have done both of them in the past, and have reallized a couple of things that I just feel like sharing today.

If you ever have the bounty of flying across the American prairies (and yes, Canada is in America, which is a continent and not a country, thank you very much), heading west, you may have the opportunity to notice a wonder of nature. It is as if nature itself has offered us a leit motif, if we but care to observe it. Then again, nature always offers us motifs, if we but care to observe them. That is part of the miracle of what I have come to call micro / macro, or "if it works on the large scale, it works on the small scale". Come to think of it, although I've used this concept in many different articles (for an example click here), I don't think I've ever actually written directly about it. Hmm. There's an idea for a future article.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, driving across the country.

Upon leaving Winnipeg, the first thing I notice is the extreme flatness of the land. I mean, it is very difficult to describe just how flat the land is. There was one time I sent someone a postcard with a map of Manitoba on it (you know the kind, one of those cheap tourist postcards that you get for a quarter at tourist traps), and wrote on the back how it was one of those new topographically accurate maps. I don't think I was exagerrating. Manitoba is one of those places where you can watch your dog run away for a week. It's great.

As you drive further west, one of the things you notice is the similarity between Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I think Saskatchewan was made with the same topological template as Manitoba, except that it got a single crease up the middle of it, which they now call the Qu'Appelle Valley.

Time for an aside: I have spent a lot of time in the Qu'Appelle Valley and love it very much, but wish to correct some mis-information about the name. When you go there and ask about the name, they give you some fictional story about a woman who fell in love with this guy. He went off to hunt and as he was coming home, canoeing across the lake, he thought he heard someone calling his name. He called out, asking who was there. When there was no answer, he asked again in French, and only heard his echo in reply. When he returned to his village, he found out that this woman, his fiancee, had died with his name on her lips as he had been canoeing, and thus they say the valley got its name. The only problem is that "who is calling" in French would be "Qui appelle?" Qu'appelle would be "what's calling", or "Say what?"

By now you find yourself driving across eastern Alberta and the ground is just beginning to ripple. The ripples grow and grow in size, becoming foothills and eventually upswelling into the Canadian Rockies, and eventually calming down and falling off into the Pacific Ocean.

This upward movement of the earth, as you move further and further west, is very much reminiscent of the waters that you eventually reach. They begin calm and placid on the prairies, pacific, if you will. Then the geological waves begin to appear, each wave taking millenia to form, rising and rising, upward and upward, higher and higher, until they culminate in those majestic peaks.

As you find yourself driving in the mountains it often feels as if you are lost, for you find yourself wending and winding, going north and then south, sometimes even turning back upon your own path and heading east, just when you thought you were supposed to be heading west. There are dangers and pitfalls everywhere, if you are not careful, but the vista is absolutely stunning.

Then there is a moment of rest in western British Columbia before you find the whole geological turmoil thing starting all over again in water instead of rock. But as you take a moment to look around, you begin to realize that there are things on the western side of the mountains that just don't occur on the eastern side of them. There are trees that you don't see anywhere else, animals that aren't found in other parts, even the movement of the clouds and the weather patterns are different from any other place in the country. As you carefully study the environment, you begin to realize that the small stripe of land wedged between the mountains and the ocean is similar, but unlike any other place you have been.

This, in essence, is my impression of Canada as I drive from Winnipeg to Vancouver. Ok, I know I said Victoria earlier, but it was really Vancouver.

I didn't really notice this at all from the plane, for I usually spend my time talking with the person next to me. It was only when I made the drive that this became obvious.

Why is that? I think it is because in the car, I am travelling closer to a human pace, and nearer to a human perspective. While not actually at the human perspective, which I think of as a walking pace, it is close enough that these observations became possible to me.

From the perspective of the air, while flying at tremendous speeds and at great heights, it was more like the perspective of the angels. I could see the general outline of the patterns of our society, from the long lines of the roads to the geometrical shapes of the farmers fields. I might have been able to watch the occasional truck or car as they sped along, but they were almost meaningless in their individuality, for I was too high up, moving too swiftly.

Those patterns that I actually barely noticed from the car were now very evident when seen from those lofty heights. And this is when another question begins to form in my mind: are these simple observations of mere rocks similar to what Baha'u'llah saw about societies and civilizations? Is this recursive patterning, found in both the movement of the ground and in the water, like what He saw in the patterns of movement in the old world civilization and the new one that is unfolding before our eyes? Could it be that the simple wave motion that takes so many thousands and thousands of years to occur in the rock, and only moments in water, both of which form relatively quickly but whose effects last far longer, is like the social movements that are only now just forming?

Perhaps we are moving from a world of rock to a world of water in effect. And right now, at this moment in time, as we are beginning to learn about how these rules work in this new environment, we are caught in that unique moment where the flora and fauna and landscape and weather patterns are different from anything else we have ever encoutered, although similar in many ways. There are dangers and pitfalls, and the view is incredible. It seems to me as if we are currently coming down from the mountains, ready to embrace a whole new set of rules that are similar, yet strikingly different, to what we have had before.

Hmm. Phrased that way, I am also reminded of the story of Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. He knew about these new laws, and was aware of the new civilization that would arise from obedience to these laws, but what he found was a bunch of people who were heedless and deliberately disobedient to the old laws. They were lost in the wilderness of desire.

In case you are not aware, it was because of this, according to Jewish tradition, that they wandered in the desert for 40 years. It was because nobody who was present at that moment was to be allowed to step foot in the Promised Land. He had to wait for an entire generation to pass before He could lead them to where they were to go.

But here, I wonder where the analogy ends. Which generation is it that will be allowed to see this new civilization? We know that "the civilization that beckons humanity will not be attained through the efforts of the Baha'i community alone", and will "demand centuries of exertion". Who is it that "shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding"? And what will they be like?

Hey, I wonder if I can get a plane ticket there, instead of having to drive. Nah. If I'm not mistaken, Baha'u'llah is going to make me walk.

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