Although I returned to a written reprimand (non-attendance graduation) and docked pay (missed six non-teaching work days), three weeks off the rock in December and January refreshed me to my bones. By not consciously thinking about teaching for twenty-one days I find I have some new curricular ideas and a reservoir of energy with which to work.
Vacation, as in traveling to somewhere distant, is a curious activity. There is little to suggest that traveling into unfamiliar places with unknown dangers would have been a survival benefit to our ancient ancestors. Staying home almost always had to have been safer. Yet the deep allure of travel is present across cultures.
Micronesians arrived in these islands on voyaging canoes, long journeys over open ocean. That first canoe, or canoes, had to be traveling uncharted waters. The question “Are we there yet?” as unanswerable as “Where are we going?”
For those on a voyaging canoe the journey was only partially calculated risk, a gamble that what lay beyond the horizon was worth the risk. Yet as modern voyaging canoes have shown, capable navigators could hold courses and make return voyages. Navigators had skills in finding islands in the vast Pacific, reading swells and clouds. Those sailing lived off the sea as they traveled.
Arrival at a new island that was large enough to support life had to be thrilling. The new island would look strange and unfamiliar, and that would make the arrival all the more exciting. That aspect of travel is still there for my tropical island raised children. The “islands” they visited are not just different, they are exotic beyond their imagination.
One can see the Cloud Gate in a computer image, the skyline reflected by the gleaming curved surfaces. Being there is viscerally different. The brain suddenly comprehending the size of the Cloud Gate while not comprehending the scale of the buildings just across Michigan Avenue. The sound of the city, of traffic, distant sirens ever-present, cold air whipping across Centennial Park and past one’s ears.
Our brains adjust to the daily world around us and eventually treat the sights and sounds of home as background noise. Home is rarely exotic on a daily basis. For those who commute past a wonder of the world, the sight is a daily occurrence, an ordinary event. For children who regularly see the Cloud Gate, the structure is far less remarkable than for children raised on a rain forest island of coconut palms.
For a child raised in Alaska, snow is a given. For a child raised in Micronesia, a first meeting with snow is beyond magical. In that moment of discovery and joy one’s brain is completely flooded with wonder. That sense of wonder is contagious, even an adult can feel that sense of seeing the world anew.
Ancient humans undoubtedly traveled primarily out of necessity. The need for a new food opportunities, uninhabited lands for ever-expanding families, or to escape a deteriorating life situation. Survival sometimes favored those brave enough to move, to abandon the place in which they knew how to survive. The new environment presented new challenges and required a sharpness of mind. Today travel is recreational, but the sharpness of mind, the attention the new environment requires, is still there.
In that absorption of the mind with the new surroundings is a dropping away of the mental load of the daily ordinary which was left behind. The brain gets to do a reboot and reconfigure, a refresh of the brain circuitry. Upon return from the journey, the mind retains the benefits of the refresh. There is a sense of being recharged and re-energized. While constant, continuous travel likely becomes mentally exhausting – travel would be the daily ordinary for such a person – for those of us resident for years in one place, travel can be refreshing in a very deep sense.