I recall my mother describing the “let down” she experienced at the end of a trip. Sometimes this appeared to be the physical exhaustion from being “on the go”, changing locations, packing and unpacking at each hotel, getting up to see the sights or travel to a new destination. Sometimes this appeared to be from the mental energy spent on remembering what day is was and what tour you had booked at what time, as well as absorbing the novel sights and other senses involved in being in unknown places. Sometimes this was the restlessness of returning to the routine of home, work, and community tasks, after doing different activities each day. Along with the routines came the catching-up on the responsibilities of modern life, which had piled up while away: sorting mail, paying bills, washing suitcases full of laundry, buying groceries to restocking the refrigerator, answering phone messages and e-mails, etc. We learned years ago to schedule a day at home, to start this process, after the traveling and before returning to work. After this trip, with the exhilarating red sandstone geological features everywhere, I was content to sit on our deck at the end of the first day home, looking at the deep green of summer leaves on the trees all around us.
Journeys do end. We return home. Hopefully, we take the time, not only to unpack, but to store away the memories from a trip. We sort through the photos, now digitally organized on our computer, to create trip albums, to share with family and friends and to revisit in future days. I organize my blog entries, also, for later retrieval, contemplation, and appreciation, much as I would have done with a travel journal. We finish reading the books we started before or during our trip, for closure, and to file back on the shelf for future reference or lending to friends who might follow our pathways. In a few weeks, co-works and friends will have looked through the trip album, asked us “What did you like the best”, etc. and we will be on to the summer activities. Some day, when dementia focuses my existence on the immediacy of bodily functions and distance memories, I hope that a caring attendant will pull the albums and journals off the shelf and be willing to listen as I ramble about adventures, and squawk on my Native American flute.
I grew up in the fear of Cold War annihilation. Early formed beliefs do not go away easily, but might become buried under daily distractions and attempts to insert other belief systems. After several of our travels, I have noticed that the theme of “journey’s end” has come up. This thought refers to both this immediate adventure, which we may never repeat, and on a larger scale of society’s prosperity, which allows us to have the time, finances, and health to vacation. Globally, our abundance is tenuously unsustainable. For all my enthusiasm for discovery, I hear the lament of the blues in the distance.
Even at the outset of our RV trip, with the first fuel fill up, I wondered how we, as a society, can expend the energy resources to transport people around thousands of miles for vacations. Thirty-five gallons of gas, at $4 per gallon, which we would burn up at 10 MPG to travel 1,700 miles in a week and a half. Multiply this by the number of RV’s and rental cars and airplane flights, trucks transporting the provisions for all these tourists, and power generating station keeping hotel lights, heat or air conditioners running, etc. Add to that the energy expenditures to feed and house the people in the tourist industry, and some graduate engineering or energy management student has a thesis to research. Driving back from our float trip down the Colorado, the transportation van drove behind a bid-rig truck loaded with fertilizer, mulch and compost. As much as I enjoy gardening and would want the folks in Page, AZ to have the same leisure activity, I pondered how much expense Home Depot or WalMart spent to stock such gardening supplies at a great distance from where the bags were filled.
The second resource I saw travelers using a great rates was water. Being in a desert region amplified my contemplation of how we use water faster than natural processes restore it to rivers and ground sources. I contemplated this as we floated on the water of the Colorado River. Clay, our guide, talked about the flow rate that is released from Lake Powel, mainly to refill Lake Mead. However, even with this rate, Las Vegas and other communities draw water out faster than the snow melt run off can replenish the water each year. Add to that, according to Clay, is the lost water that evaporates from the lake systems at about 30% per year, and another 30% pushed out from the lakes into the adjoining rocks structures because of the hydrodrolic pressure inherent in a body of water. Though our current economic downturn has slowed the growth of desert communities and tourism, our general population trend is for more people to move and travel to places with limited water resources. And, people on vacation pay less attention to how much they flush the toilet, how long they run the shower, and how much water they leave in the glass at the restaurant.
Whether we drive our vehicles until the gas station no longer have fuel we can afford, or we bathe our water sources dry, geological time is going to eventually silt up the lakes and deteriorate or crack the dams, returning the rivers to seasonal flows with spring flooding, and summer and fall trickles. By then the invasive plant and fish will have either established themselves at the expense of prior residents of free flowing rivers, or died from habitat depletion. We, humans, might be considered one the greatest invasive species. We constantly move into environments and quickly grow in population. We find ways to extract resources which do not quickly replenish themselves. But, we are not likely to evade the natural cycles of expansion and collapse of populations ultimately. These cycles are easy to observe in other plants and animals which quick generations, such as mice and deer. It is less easy to see when our generations take 20 to 30 years.
But, as we have passed 6 billion of us and approach 7 billion in matter of decades, our society’s journey is likely to end. I do not expect that humans will become extinct, but our population will decline, and geology will take over again. “One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.” ( Ecclesiastes 1:4)