Harry Middleton, who wrote books and essays mostly about fly fishing before dying too young, gave me an important lens through which I view travel. On the Spine of Time chronicled his numerous trips to western North Carolina rivers. He lost more trout than he caught, ruminated on the history of his surrounding, was forced into a tree by a rising river, and met a gallery of quirky characters who populate his book.
Each time I picked it up I had a vivid image of the world speeding past an oblivious Middleton who was focused on one small, fascinating corner of the world. The things he wrote about weren’t obvious; he needed time to tease out details. Middleton taught me that If you want to dive into a place as deeply as he did, there’s no substitute for time.
New places overwhelm and ask questions: Where are you going to go? What do you need to see? Is there time for all of it? Any of it? Do you understand?
Understanding a place only comes with time. Time spent watching, time spent asking questions, time spent thinking. That’s why even when I feel the need to experience something new, I love to return to places I’ve been before. So I can watch, ask and think. That where I find value in travel – getting to know places in ways that a quick stop can’t allow.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Middleton, from The Earth is Enough:
“It’s been said that we pass through life with a diminishing portfolio of enthusiasms. My problem is having had so many to start out with. Now, at the age of fifty-six, I have painting, my four beautiful children, fly casting, writing, friends, wing shooting, printing, family and extended family, cooking, and Marusia, the light of my life, not at all necessarily in that order. The problem, if you want to call it that, is there is no time left for things that don’t matter. Years ago, after watching someone waste endless hours on some pointless project, Tom McGuane observed that the fellow obviously believed the average human lifetime to be ten thousand years. I’m treating it as if there were less than a minute to go.”
Here’s to using time wisely.