The Hunter-Gatherer Gene of Travel – my exploration

Here is some insight for traveling. No, it is not the clickbait 5 reasons why you should travel or the witty quotes about why its the best thing. Nor is it the dramatic life of the modern digital nomad or gap year person.

The main reason or reasons why you should travel are not because foreign shores are calling or your passport visa pages are empty. Also if you are gap year eligible its not to reboot your life and spend a year moving to another drumbeat.

There is no real or main reason to travel other than our anthropological nature was to travel across geographies and hunt and gather slowly in accord with the seasons. We perhaps moved to the climate and found a new place with game and plants aplenty. We did not need good wifi to make a difference then but we did paint on cave walls and some would say drew maps showing a place to hunt or a map of travels or a social experience.

I ask you all not to name the reason why you travel. You all have those. Maybe its one of the ones I named or perhaps you feel the yearning from those yesteryears of life beckoning to you. We all have indomitable spirits no matter how we try to quell them with work, relationships, money, even travel. We believe that by going at a pace or calling ourselves something we satisfy some innate urge, some basic need to hit the road. Perhaps a later thing is to quantify it on twitter or instagram with the never-ending tribe photos of your pursuit. Its all good! We all travel because we do but I think the reason goes far back in time. Back when we were hunter-gatherers and to travel meant to travel slowly. We grew used to each place we would stay in. Game trails and clear and clean water. Perhaps trade with other groups would enrich our lives by introducing new things like seashell beads or food that was unique.

My hypothesis is that we travel because we must. Its in our human spirit to want to see what is over the horizon but now we do it not because we need food or water or the game or the plants. The basic need is still there to travel but here’s the thing,

Traveling Slowly

That’s the thing folks. I talk with a friend who does business travel around Asia and the US. I feel for him. Its not the travel itself which makes him happy. That is just an instrument to get him to the next business meeting which is timezones away. Its the flights that connect with other flights that feed a meeting in a city in another country and then business needs say you must be “over there” on X day next week. To me, this sucks at our indomitable spirit of travel. Its a bastardization of what travel is and it does more harm than good. I think its harming his physical life and his mental. Its the antithesis of travel when its only the destinations that count and not the means. I think the final thing that happens with cruel business travel is burn out or illness or both.

Lets step back though and look at my hypothesis which is antithetical to business travel. My belief is our human ancestors traveled slowly to meet the seasons and to meet their needs not just for food and plants but for social and cultural reasons as well. Places were lived in for months. See the basic broad stroke of patterns here? The reasons why have changed folks but the need is there.

So how do we meet the need that is so ingrained in our personas? When we feel by not doing it somehow we are missing or not achieving or not finding? Its simple to me. Its that ancestor desire but we have evolved to a point where the travel itself becomes the thing; not if we are a digital nomad or a gap year or a round the world traveler. The main difference is speed of execution. I believe we are meant to slowly see the world roll out before us and by traveling more slowly we take in more of the wonderful tapestry that each place has for us. But the other part, unlike my friend and his business travel, is the travel itself. That becomes a thing for us. Its the moving and not the arriving. Perhaps that too was in those hunter-gatherer genes. We don’t know because only a few societies remain that practice the lifestyle. Can it be we are “schooled” for slow travel that maximizes the word “travel” and not always “destination”? Sure. Can business travel with all its needs and requirements and limitations actually hurt the need rather than feed it? I hope my friend finds his balance but I don’t think he will. Rarely do company needs meet individual needs.

Look at your own travel style. Is it 35 countries in 90 days you tick off on a map and your visa pages fill up quickly? What would it be like I posit to slow way down and only see, really see, two countries in 90 days? There’s an incipient goal to “do it all”, make it to magic number that coalesces your needs with the year you have on the road. I wonder if some other travel tribe acquaintances would have gone slower if things would have been better for them.

Just like the hunter-gatherers of yore did not rush the places but lingered to find the required items or cherished items or family or sexual or other items; what if we lingered?

I always ask myself in reading twitter accounts of their travels some questions:

  1. What is served by the mode and speed you go?
  2. Who defined that speed?
  3. Why are you going so fast or trying to see so much at a time?
  4. When its all over in a year what will you have to show?

Consider if you are considering a trip. If you spent a year in Vietnam which can be done easily I think, what you would gain. Vietnam, a cheaper place to live day by day, to meet people, just spend time with the camera or the work doing the things you love. Or maybe Cambodia or Malaysia or Thailand? What if you spent 6 months in a place cheaper and 2 weeks in a place more expensive? Even more what if it ceased to matter at all and the moments started mattering?

Give some thought to it. Your hunter-gatherer genes are telling you a barely discerned thing. Its both the destination and the way that counts. You impose some sense of order and perhaps limitation but what if you stayed longer? Could it work to make you something else?

Do you even want to be something else?

Know where you are and where you are going…

I was thinking this through during my beach walk and return this evening. What are the necessary and required things of a life? My mentor RWR only told me a few pieces of life advice. I think he thought what would work for someone else would probably not work so well for me. He told me to

always know where you are and where you are going

I carried this with me from the days of doing prehistoric archeology in the Mojave Desert both during work as a Project Archeologist at Edwards AFB, CA and on the weekends when he and I escaped to a butte or lonely dirt road wandering through those mysterious foothills north of Edwards heading perhaps toward Bakersfield or Tehachapi. Its where the desert meets the foothills and the ecology starts ramping up. You can tell there is more water there and less people disturbance.

I always struggled to know where I was going. I knew I never wanted to give up archeology (then). It was like he told when asked that it was the

most fun you can have with your pants on

But the practice of it when I got let go at Edwards was pretty nomadic. Especially with a wife working at a hospital then and a baby that would come later. I was driving all over the state for an environmental engineering company. Working in Barstow and east of Sacramento and all points in-between.

So I knew where I was but where I was going?

That was kinda hella tricky. I just had no grasp of what would happen next besides the beer blast on a Friday after work at the hotel with all the archeologists, the biologists, and the ultimately crazy guys our geologists.

So what does this have with being on the road you ask. What possible connection can it have with travel which has been the predominant thread that this blog has spoken to? It has a few. One of the things that doing archeology professionally led me to was stopping in the late 1980s or early 1990s and moving for some God forsaken reason to IT. One of the advantages though was I suddenly knew where I was going. I knew I hated doing Program Management of complex projects my last few years and I knew I would leave. If you have done IT you probably know that it sucks. If you don’t, you should. I did multi-million dollar infrastructure and data center recovery, relocation, virtualization projects that drove me crazy at the last place. So for sure by that point, I knew where I was going. I was getting the F outa there.

My main message here is that often we travel through times in our lives without really knowing. That beer in the evening in the middle of the Mojave Desert with a bunch of like minded individuals while not yielding the where I was going part gave me this sense of wonder. If you have never done archeology in a field class or as a profession you will have no idea. Its not work really but it has sometimes a really bad impact on the body. Witness the RSI in my elbow from digging up human remains all one summer for PGE. Those damnable dental picks and the fragile human remains and my friend telling me to be careful all the time until we got tanked up at the hotel on beers.

It all helped me find where I was going. Now I know where it all led. It led to a room in Da Nang Vietnam and thinking back on the travels and travails of a life spent in a passion and another part spent laboring in IT. Now I know the rest of the story about what RWR told me.

Am I finally happy? Yes. I lived through IT and loved through archeology. One a passion and damned hard work and the other sometimes boredom and drudgery and horribly hard work as my projects went GREEN to RED with no stops in-between. I hated that. But it took me to 2018 on 1 March and leaving all of it behind.

So sleep well dear readers. If you know where you are and where you are going, you got it made. RWR said so.

its the Starbucks in Fremont

Starbucks in the afternoon means some time to enjoy a iced coffee and surreptitiously watch other people that are perhaps watching yet other people. The Starbucks I like going to do this people watching is one I used to visit some years ago. Then I would walk in and it felt like a true Cheers moment when Herb walked in and the bar greeted him. The baristas would note the time of day and asked if I wanted my afternoon drink. The was a grande iced coffee. Sometimes some kind of goodie. Often on Fridays, I’d plan on arriving around 4pm because a group of others arrived shortly thereafter and would capture the long table and get their chessboards setup. Soon more would arrive and the chess games started. The evening sun would blaze the window and the white and black chess pieces swirled the table and men (only men) would laugh and curse and then lose or win. Losers moved to the next chessboard and play the next winner and losers would move all around. It was like a symphony of life because there were no real winners or losers. Everyone got to play and then play again. Soon it was dark and the baristas would offer some free treats and in those days visit with the customers.

Now the time has changed and the long table still lives on but its full of millennials doing school or other stuff. A lot of Mac laptops bloom here and there is a constant buzz of conversation. I hear the swish of newspapers because here people still read classic papers.

Others come in and go out and buy drinks. I don’t know any of them any longer. Time has passed and the Starbucks that was is no longer. A new place has taken over and Erica no longer laughs as she expertly makes the drinks. Everything changes and the evolution of life at the Starbucks is like some ethnological study of culture change. New rules and mores apply. New values and norms are introduced and the culture goes on. Perhaps the old timers bring in their kids on a day and show them the big soft chairs in the corner and reminisce about those long ago days. Perhaps those new aspiring members see the new crowd and will come back.

Is Starbucks a conveyor of values and mores to our culture? Perhaps. Maybe the rules still apply and the shadows of those chess players from so long ago still dance the sunsets and like some ghost dance remind those that were here that the Starbuck universe is complete. The new members have come to their places and we all can watch as the stories are told. I did not hear any of these but on a whim,

Remember son that these moments in the soft chairs are important. They separate us from the others. Grab the chair and hold on to it. Park your backpack in it an its reserved. There’s the line. No cutting. There’s enough coffee for us all.

Then perhaps the day settles and the old timer and the new timer depart. One doubts he will return because the things he remembered are rapidly disappearing. Perhaps the young timer will return. Now the long table is his and he finds that the new millennial society is a perfect fit for studying.

I can still hear the clink of the chess pieces and the call outs of “Check and Checkmate”.

No.

That was the yesteryear of my times. The values being transmitted are different and perhaps I’m not so invited and invested in knowing them. I’ve reached a age where I only take up a spot on the corner of the big table.

That and write a blog post and dwell on my rapidly diminishing days here. Will I ever see this particular Starbucks again after March? It does not matter. Starbucks is a cultural universal and I can study anthropology at any of them.

Traveling the Desert 

It seems some years ago, maybe decades even; I traveled a circuitous path. Down dusty desert roads in a jeep. Many of us hung on the back in excitement and fear. We drove down buttes then up foothills and got to see the magnificent Mojave Desert from many vantage points. One I remember rather vividly is once doing an archeological survey for a windfarm project up in the Techachapi’s. It took us hours of driving to finally get to the project location according to the map. Driving there was a tense yet enjoyable affair but it was the nights which roared. The wind started blowing at sunset and we gathered by a fire with warm beer and scary stories. Chili or a certain stew soon come out. The chili was world-class level since RWR entered his chili in many cookoffs. The stew was a contribution affair where each of us gave a can of something for the greater good.Stuff that went in included pork and beans, soup, cans of peaches, tomato sauce, peppers of some kind. What came out was a big pot of stuff that warmed the insides. We would then sit by the fire as it roared and twisted and wanted out from its captive state. One of our team, a certain person named Malutin was asked to bring more wood once and showed up with an entire tree trunk and mid part of the tree. This would have lasted us some days I think. We laughed though and started the log burning. And on it burned and the fire threw shadows and the wind howled and by late evening we had done our damage to the stew and the beer and we moved to our tents. But the wind was not done with us. It would roar the canyons and hills and we felt a tenuous hold that could slip away. By three days in or so, we had to leave so we all hiked down this hill as the truck and jeep hauled our stuff down. The road had become more dangerous and after loading the truck, we discovered the rear tire was flat. Robert also could not locate his tent until he saw it blowing down the hillside. Memorable quote was,

I think my tent is missing. I got up this morning and it was there.

Then a moment of silence…

We all saw this tent blowing down the hill and Robert explained rather plaintively,

That tent looks just like my tent. I believe, in fact, that is my tent.

We all watched it continue its tricky traverse laughing as Robert decided it was wortwhile trying to rescue it.

Then we hiked down that hillside or perhaps mountain as some were wont to call it.

It was the moments of life then which seemed rich and storied. Moments of time frozen as the archeology was done and fun was had. I started thinking of all the differences and things that have occurred. There were the usual things like time passing. There was the moments of marriage and divorce. There was life on the road after. Nothing added up to the traveling times in the desert

I could never find another thing which compares. I could move data centers and work on stubborn projects and try to project my good feelings that life was about to get better. But there was no real moment quite like that travel in the desert. Maybe it was the archeology or the beer or the facts of how we did it. And maybe everyone has a story about being on the road or doing a different thing that’s really there waiting to come out. I was told once each person goes through three complete career changes in their lives. Sitting here in Starbucks and remembering the moments, I could see it.

I could trace the steps I made once as I walked over dunes in the middle of some gunnery range on Edwards AFB. I could see my friend Dave’s complete astonishment at a field of wildflowers blooming and his “on the knees” taking photos and writing down Latin names. That was the desert too you see.

I know I shall never go backwards because we don’t. Like a sign says at work,

Don’t look backwards; that’s not the direction we are going.

But when you gaze at the years, you know that its a fabric and remembering those same times later fulfills the destiny of knowing where you’ve been and that it does affect where you are going.

So those desert travels and travails were full of potential lost and found. My daughter force asks what a thing was like and no matter how much I try to explain what RWR may have meant by a thing, she will never truly know. Because those desert walks were mine and she has to find her own path.

Thanksgiving 2016, Starbucks, a Room, a Story

Its come to me a few times that this blog is really about stories and considerations of things which have been news, views, or subterfuge in my life. After all, we only have a single point of reference we really know and that’s what we experience. We cannot put ourselves in another’s body and experience their stuff. That’s a good thing I think. For all the altruistic and worldly thoughts we have on this day, giving thoughts to dispersed family and friends, wandering in and out of reality in a room just big enough for a single person; I’ve realized. Realized that life for me is personal sized. There is enough room just for me in it. My friend Free now has a friend that shares the moments. There with him to take the thing he built and enjoy it. I have not built anything and I have nothing to share so this Thanksgiving is much the same as the ones since about 2011 after I returned from all those trips to Japan, Singapore, and India. A strange mix of holidays and less joy at them. Perhaps to enjoy these holidays in the fashion before where family gathered and enjoyed the food, you need to have that less than desired family. That extension which I have left behind. Now its Starbucks.

Starbucks in the morning on Google Wifi, on a iPad Pro 9.7 inch. Writing this blog post at this time, at this place. The classic coffee cake still is hot and the Latte steams still and the people are absorbed in phones and news and personal reflections. Starbucks has been and will be a place to escape to for me. A place to have people around but not engaged with them. Does that seem strange? I guess I need every so often to see people I don’t know and secretly watch them engaged in their phone and tablet behaviors without having some kind of interaction. Starbucks does that for me. I can leave my room in Newark California and engage yet not. That gets me to the succession of rooms I have been either happy or less than happy to live in.

At the current state, the living conditions are good. The house is clean and everything works. I’ve upgraded to a larger upstairs room that can hold more stuff. I got rid of the Japanese futon and got a Tuft and Needle bed which really suits me for sleeping now. I spend more time in that bed than sitting at the desk in the chair I put together. Prior to this room, I lived in a small room in the same house. That was also okay. It taught me a thing or two about what it takes to live and how I could live just about anywhere in the same space. A single person does not need boatloads of space to really live and even excel. There is a sublime difference between living and excelling. I’ve crossed that Rubicon. The Rubicon is a story for me. A story I’ll share about a time long ago. Maybe you stop reading now and decide I am an ambling blogger with no real purpose. That’s okay. You are still reading. So now the story.

Back in other days, I stumbled the deserts, the foothills, the buttes, the mountains of the southwest, west, northwest as an archeologist. Not an Indiana Jones archeologist searching vainly for the golden monkey head. A desert and arid ecosystems guy primarily interested in small team hunter-gatherer use of environments, how these groups traversed, used, and exploited through trade, social systems, group interaction, and tools. The archeological record as an instructor used to tell me is incomplete. One cannot excavate ideas but the material remains let scientists build hypotheses and then test them. If you perchance find a pacific seashell bead in the middle of a Mojave desert archeological site, question is how did it get there? But bigger questions too. What does it mean for group interaction, trade, technological reach? A little bead carrying so much story! We can build the back story though. So once as I ambled across the deserts, my friend and mentor RWR invited me to travel along to the annual Society of California Archeologists annual meetings. We drove and drank and ate together because that’s what you do. We got to the hotel and had to leave to buy more beer because the beer in the bar was way too expensive for a bunch of archeologists. There was a sign that said beverages not allowed in the bar from outside. That sign turned up missing or not considered as Mark brought in bottles and bottles of beer to the bar. Suddenly, archeologists were not paying dollars and dollars for beers but Mark was providing more and more as he went back to his car. The hotel staff was dumbfounded. The mortuary science fellows sharing the convention were astounded. We were all drunk. We sat at the bar with the pirated beer and one of the mortuary guys asked what we did. The archeologist we were with intoned with false sobriety,

You put them in the ground and we dig them up

Then our meetings started and we heard the crossing the rubicon reference. The person giving the big speech carefully told we should be prepared to cross that rubicon with science. RWR and I were mystified. We did not know what a rubicon was or that we should cross it. We left for the bar where Mark was still handing out the beer. Finally the hotel staff got wise and told us we had to leave. But we were residents there we told them. Go to your rooms they told us. So we left for the rooms. Mark fell asleep in his car. I woke up on the floor at 3am. 

It was all good. I had crossed the Rubicon and ended up on the floor.