Love. There are so many ways to express it and so many different words for it. Phileo (friendship love), Storage (family love), Eros (passion), Agape (spiritual love), Compassion, Care, Kindness, Enjoyment, Admiration, Devotion…the words go on and on. People have fought wars over love, gone insane over love, had their lives consumed by something or someone they love, written songs about falling in and out of love. We even celebrate a holiday devoted solely to the celebration of love. I find it interesting that Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine’s Day, began as simply a liturgical celebration of the many St. Valentines that were canonized by the Catholic Church. The holiday didn’t have any other connotation, let alone the celebration of various forms of love. In fact, it seems as though St. Valentine had a horrific death as a martyr…not very romantic.
It wasn’t until Geoffrey Chaucer (surprise, surprise!) wrote the Parlement of Foules that Valentine’s Day became associated with romantic love. During Chaucer’s day in the High Middle Ages, his contemporaries were infatuated with the idea of courtly love and by the 15th century, this tradition had evolved into a practice of expressing affection by offering gifts such as flowers and cards. Chaucer writes:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
(“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day/When every bird comes to choose his mate”)
Funny, huh? I am pretty fond of the idea of Valentine’s Day, a day to remember to appreciate the love in our lives. Nay-sayers will argue that just one day devoted to love is silly…shouldn’t we express our love every day? I agree with them to a point, but I guess it’s like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day…of course we should express our gratitude to our parents regularly but there is one day that is set aside for them only. Though I do agree that Valentine’s Day in our current culture is overly commercial, I have no problem with the idea of the holiday and certainly have no problem with expressing love for something or someone. Of course, as with any broadly recognized holiday trend, it’s all about how you personally choose to live it out.
So on that note, it is very true that our hearts our moved by so many things. When I was going through my day yesterday, I could think of so many things that I love. Trees, Cities, Music, Biking, Food, books, words, my friends and family, the list goes on and on. But in honor of the Day of Love, and St. Valentine (the name is derived from the Latin valens meaning worthy, strong, powerful) I would like to share with you on a topic encompassing something else I love. Something that makes me feel worthy and strong and powerful. Something that always inspires learning and exploration (two other things I love). Travel.
I am in the midst of planning a trip right now with my best friend where we will be traveling across the United States by train from Chicago to Portland (look forward to blog posts about this trip next month). The last month or so, I have been thinking about and wondering what we will encounter on our trip, the anticipation leaving me giddy. For the purposes of this blog post, I could even go so far as to say that anticipating this trip is akin to anticipating a date with someone I fancy. I am excited about the idea of taking a more extended trip again, as the last time I did this was a 3-week trip to Ohio, North Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orelans in the Fall of 2010 and before that, a 5-week trip to Europe in the summer of 2010. I remember the levity and constant wonder I felt on these trips, the one to Europe especially, absorbing the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of France, Ireland, and Scotland. I was constantly reminded over those weeks about the love affair that I hope to have with the world throughout my life and amazing amount of learning that always happens whilst traveling: about the people you’re with (there is no better test of a relationship with someone than through extended trips with them) or about the cultures you’re experiencing. Maybe it’s the act of being in an vulnerable state, carrying few provisions, exploring a place that is most often foreign, and encountering unexpected bumps in the road, but traveling is the ultimate state of constant learning. Sometimes it’s a headache, but more often than not, it can be a beautiful dance of people encountering each other and the landscape with their eyes open.
So, in honor of this love of the world that I so greatly hold, I would like to share with you some writing I did while on this trip to Europe in 2010. Especially in anticipation of my upcoming trip across the U.S., here is some travel writing that I hope will inspire you to explore your own love affair with the world around you, even if it’s just in your dining room chair or your backyard. This particular musing was written in the sunroom of a house in the countryside of County Leitrim in Ireland. My family stayed in this house for five days on the tail-end of our Ireland trip, which was a wonderful integration into the Irish countryside and its beautiful simplicity.
14 July 2010
We drove to Donegal (“donny-gahll”) today in a rainstorm. When the endless sky opened up and the sun weakly poured through, shining its transparent light over the countryside, I fell in love with this part of the country. Appropriate that it is in Northwest Ireland, mirroring my Northwest roots. Soon blue sky was everywhere, the grass waving its virescent green, gleaming in the sun. The clouds were an impossible white, mountains of vapor covering the sky. Their undersides shone like the inside of a pearl shell, or like opals, gleaming opaquely but never the same color. The streams we passed sparkled as they laughed between the hills. Sheep and horses of every color munched meditatively. The green was almost numbing- it is so splendid, blanketing everything in sight. It infiltrates your sight so that you are illusioned into thinking you have never seen another color.
From the sky, the land must be a jigsaw puzzle of different shades of green, each piece bordered by the forest pine color of evergreen trees and the hills softly rolling under these borders. Clouds floated in layers, the highest hanging motionless, the layer closest to us meandering past slowly. Light shone out from the soul of these clouds, the particles dissipating and washing the Earth with light alternating piercingly sharp and bright with so soft and subtle that you have to strain to believe your sight isn’t just blurred. I try to paint this picture of health, life, and beauty but words are often insufficient.
As we reached the sea, the wind picked up and the sky seemed to expand in light and the green grass glowed even more green. We looked for a rainbow amongst the sheep who slowly and methodically, even meditatively, munched at the water’s edge. The shoreline was ridged and merely curving out of sight around the edge of the land. The water glistened silver and navy and craggy cliffs rose out of the water.
The most dramatic of the cliffs is Sliabh Liag, the tallest cliffs in Europe (2000 feet high). They were unreal- it’s hard to believe that height exists between where you’re standing and the ocean but you don’t dare crane your neck down to see if that’s true. You can only see the dramatic cliffs across the inlet from you, and even then their distance seems to lie. The peat on the hike to Sliabh Liag is soft and cushy, like a mattress of green velour. It is almost like bounding across a seemingly endless bed, springs rebounding up and down with each step. It is what I imagine New Zealand to be like, or what I’ve seen of Monterey, CA- the land green , craggy, and shining- glowing with life. And the shoreline resting at the feet of open hills but the trees revealing the menacing winds forming and shaping as they advance.
We passed quaint thatched houses and dropped 200€ at a woolen mill called Studio Donegal. The area is known for its fantastic woolen items, but sadly the art is dying as future generations choose computers over the loom. As we drove South out of Donegal, it was the golden time and shadows were long, everything illuminated by the setting sun. It was almost two much beauty- as we’d been bombarded by it all day. Golden shafts of light spread themselves over the long grasses and valleys. Large expanses of white cloud, as light as cotton balls, accumulated and became more and more buoyant. As we made our departure from this breathtaking land, our drive was accompanied by local music on the radio and our hearts were filled with the beauty.