Literary Wanderings

By Pauline M. Loewenhardt

I belong to three book groups and have an ever lengthier “to read” list. However, I don’t routinely buy books as I have downsized considerably since my retirement in 2000. Fortunately, I can borrow most of the books I want to read from my library here in Ann Arbor, and I can get the others through the interlibrary loan system. Occasionally though, I come across books that I must own.

I read three books recently that I immediately ordered from Powell’s Bookstore (another of my passions is to support and promote independent book sellers.) Deep Water Passage: A Midlife Spiritual Journey, by Ann Linnea, is about the author’s kayak trip around Lake Superior. In Without Reservations: Travels of an Independent Woman, Alice Steinbach embarks on a lengthy tour of several European countries alone and without plans. The third book I bought, apparently much different from the first two, was Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.

These nonfiction books reveal their authors’ deepest aspirations, as they set out to explore new places and discover new worlds within themselves. I included the first two books in a list of books that I compiled as a gift for a group of friends who were all turning 60. My list included some old favorites, such as The Last Gift of Time, by Carolyn Heilbrun, as well as others that simply looked enticing to me.

Ann Linnea’s book about her perilous journey of self-discovery around the greatest of the Great Lakes was a total vicarious pleasure. I was right there with her as she battled huge waves, storms, the cold fog, rain, and long lonely days on the water. Although I love to kayak, I have not the courage or strength to take my little boat onto the wilds of Lake Superior.

In the process of reading about Linnea’s adventures I was introduced to another author who I have come to love. That was what I loved best about the book.  Linnea refered often to the poems and essays of Maxine Kumin and clung to Kumin as a source of comfort and inspiration during her harrowing journey. I am just now reading Always Beginning, and I know I will explore Kumin’s many other works. So many times in my life I have come to know and love one author because he or she was mentioned by another.

Alice Steinbach’s choice for a journey of self-discovery was an extended trip through Europe. She decided to step out of all fixed routines and allow the experiences to create new paths for her. The book was one of those delicious feasts for the senses that I hated to see end. She is someone with whom I could have a wonderful conversation even if we had just met.

She says, “I wanted to relearn how to be spontaneous, to have more fun, to live in the moment, and to take chances. It’s easy to lose this sense of yourself as you become more obligated to family, work, and demands of routines and responsibilities.” I suppose that is something we’d all like to do at some point, although few of us can accomplish the task by taking a grand tour of Europe. However, it was a joy to read about her journey because of her intimate knowledge about the places she stayed. She discovered much more than she originally intended.

Steinbach frequently refers to the writing of Freya Stark, who wandered alone through the Middle East during the last century. A friend in London presents her with The Journey’s Echo, and Stark becomes her constant companion through her travels. While shopping for a pair of shoes, Steinbach is comforted by knowing that Stark had an interest in and theory about clothes, which she considered a way to connect with women everywhere from very different backgrounds. I have Stark’s The Valley of the Assassins on my bedside table and can’t wait to open it.

So one book leads to another and my literary life is enriched. Sometimes, though, a book comes my way that stops me in my tracks. Such a book was the April selection of one of my book groups.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins, literally turned my stomach. Perkins worked for a large consulting firm, traveling the world to lead other countries into bondage to the US. Then the events of September 11 motivated him to expose the “corporatocracy.” He has felt tortured for years by the realization of his complicity in the corporations’ schemes to build empire. Using inflated growth projections, American companies gain contracts for huge engineering projects in small developing nations that are deemed critical to US interests. The countries then become mired in debt, which they can never repay. In the process, much of their natural beauty and environmental stability is destroyed, and indigenous people are often uprooted from their land.

Perkins’s tale is a gripping one of international intrigue, corruption, and little-known government and corporate activities that have dire consequences for American democracy and the world. Fortunately, in an epilogue Perkins offers a list of suggestions, explaining what each of us can do to end what he calls “this insane and self-destructive march to global empire.” In particular, I applaud his warning about the media as the first item on the list. To go beyond and behind the mainstream media is essential if we are to learn what our government and corporations are really doing, since the media themselves are part of the “corporatocracy.”

Though my first two books may seem unrelated to the third, I believe they are connected. If our children and grandchildren are to live in a world where they can breathe clean air, enjoy the natural environment, and take time for trips like Steinbach’s and Linnea’s, we must heed Perkins’s warning.

My dream is much like his: “We can trade in that old nightmare of polluting industries, clogged highways, and overcrowded cities for a new dream based on Earth-honoring and socially responsible principles of sustainability and equality.” To this end, Perkins has become a champion for indigenous rights and environmental movements, working, for example, with people of the Amazon to help preserve the rain forest. He has formed a nonprofit organization, Dream Change, to help individuals create more balanced and sustainable communities and to offset the atmospheric pollution our country creates through what you and I do every day.

I hear the wisdom of “live in the moment.” Yet, the world cries out for thoughts of the future and what it holds for humanity. I try to do both. Freya Stark says this about reaching your destination:

This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes part of the tangible world. It matters not how many ranges, rivers or parching dusty ways may lie between you; it is now yours forever.

Pauline Loewenhardt turned to writing after retirement from professional nursing. She has published magazine and newspaper articles and is working on her first children's book. She is an activist for media reform and the environment. She also makes time for four grandchildren and kayaking.

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