Books and the Affordable Tourist of Time

For those of us who are explorers of the world and senses, the curious of time and place, the tinkerers of history and optimists of science, books afford us a kind of tourism otherwise impossible. Whether by our inability to bend the space-time continuum or jet-set to Laos, we are left to the imaginations of authors to take us to those places and reveal their wonders.

The thought struck me as I journeyed through the Congo during its fight for independence. I could feel the red clay soil under the soles of my bare feet and smell the rain on jungle leaves. I heard unfamiliar birds and the way wind carries a different sound across the grass. I bore witness to ritual and landscape and culture without leaving my footprints or American dollars behind.

The author (in this case, Barbara Kingsolver in “The Poisonwood Bible”) crossed not only oceans and language barriers, but the divide of time, bringing us to a place in history where global powers clandestinely shaped kingdoms and countries. These stories matter, because history is our greatest guide, our greatest source of wisdom, and our greatest well of compassion and understanding.

There is a culture of sensationalism around travel—primarily for Instagram posts, as far as I can tell. As my friend Paul Lindholdt recently explored in his book, “Interrogating Travel,”those of us privileged enough to travel internationally invariably have unforeseen impacts when doing so.

We drive locals to selling sarongs on once-pristine beaches, then to relying on tourism for their economy. We infiltrate and distort their culture, bleeding our own into it until theirs is a dissipated and westernized version. We fly planes and drive cars and take boats to go to these places that are but memories of what they once were.

If you’re like me, you suffer from the knowledge that there are corners of this earth you will never see, that you must prioritize where you go. Is it more important to see the fjords of Norway or the Himalayan passes of Bhutan?

Over and over again, I am rescued from myself by reading. And something called “bioregional tourism,” which I think refers to riding my bike to the nearest ice cream parlor or venturing to learn about the Indigenous Peoples of our area. It turns out, rich cultural history and the shaping of civilizations can be found right outside our doors and in the minutia of our every day life.

There is so much available beneath our feet and at our fingertips. Scrolling the social-media-devil, I see a post about a sunrise run up some Indonesian volcano and the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) hits hard. Is my backyard hike small living? Are we missing out on something amazing by not traveling? Or could we go farther and wider with a trip to the library? //

Ammi Midstokke lives in North Idaho, where she’ll be spending the fall swinging a hammer on a new home building project. If she’s lucky, she’ll just be supervising. 

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