My two children and I were tenuously recovering from these back-to-back January shocks when I saw a news article on coral reefs proclaiming that nearly half of them would die within my lifetime. The headline underscored what I already knew: that life forms were vanishing from this planet faster than you can say "Charles Darwin." In that moment, tragedy mixed with promise, and I decided it was time to take the kids to see a few of these wonders before they were gone.
"Before they're gone" became my mantra for this trip--with a triple entendre. The first, literal meaning directed me to show Kolya and Zoe this planet's amazing animals and environments before overpopulation, poverty, global climate change, pollution, and development maimed or destroyed them. The global devastation of wild places during my lifetime mirrored my other losses, touching me no less profoundly. In my years of traveling to where the wild things still are, I had experienced the magic of watching moose graze at sunrise near my backcountry campsite. I had felt the frisson of danger sizzle my neck hairs while horseback riding in grizzly country. I had internalized the pure spiritual wonder of red-tinged sunrays streaming from thunderclouds like a holy writ, while an autumn breeze brushed past like a whisper of God's breath. The cumulative effect, I realized, was that I had fallen in love with my planet.
My kids, raised on flashes of music videos and DSL Internet downloads, had only the barest suburban inklings of the natural world that I clung to as my spiritual core. Perhaps I could help them make a deeper connection during this trip. After all, I had spent much of my journalism career covering national and international environmental issues; I had the background and contacts to bring global environmental issues into Kolya's and Zoe's consciousness.
The trip's second goal instructed me to seize this otherwise inglorious personal transition and use it to spend time with my children before they left my reconfigured single father's nest. In the fall Kolya would start eighth grade and Zoe fourth, and I could already tell they would become fledglings too soon. I wanted to get to know them; I wanted them to know me. I wanted to forge a new family of three using adventure as our crucible.
Lastly, the big "before they're gone" loomed especially large: after witnessing my brother's untimely death at forty-eight, I knew viscerally that I possessed no guarantees regarding how long any of us would be around. Electing to do something drastic, I nominated an epic road trip.
I broached the subject with the kids in February, as the reality of Bob's death sunk in like the winter darkness. "How would you like," I said, putting on my best game show do-you-want-what's-behind-door-number-two announcer voice, "A Free Trip Around the World!" After a bit of bafflement about what I was saying, they realized I was serious. Zoe waxed immediately enthusiastic. Kolya negotiated: Could we go surfing someplace along the way? "Why not?" I replied. Could he take his skateboard? "Sure." They'd have to miss school, of course. Not a problem, or as we would later say, "no worries." Did they want an Australia-Southeast Asia-Japan swing, or maybe go all the way around the world? Around the world won unanimously.
In mid-March, the idea sprouted wings. I investigated air tickets, researched ecological case studies, and became a walking "to do" list: rent the house, pack, clean, get immunizations, and arrange to pay all my bills online from Internet cafés in Sydney, Singapore, Phnom Penh, Kathmandu, and elsewhere. For several months I was adding two more items to the list for every one I completed. We shopped and negotiated for Game Boys (there would be long plane and bus rides), a laptop with DVD capabilities (there would be times when entertainment would be at a premium), electrical connectors and adapters, and beneath-the-shorts passport holders, and argued over essential items (no, Zoe, you will not need high-heeled boots on this trip). I arranged for insurance of all sorts to be shifted or canceled or altered or prepaid (I'll need travel insurance--and if I change our health insurance policy, will Zoe's asthma be considered a preexisting condition?). At the last minute, I was still packing and cleaning while friends dropped by to run a vacuum or take out trash or just lend moral support.
Copyright 2003 by Daniel Glick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher PublicAffairs.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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