05 January 2007

The Life of Things

I visited a great museum in Casper WY--the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (www.wy.blm.gov/nhtic). Between 1840 and 1870, more than half a million people crossed the western plains of North America searching for free land, freedom of religion or gold. No matter their point of departure, their paths merged at the last "easy" place to cross the North Platte River before the final leg of their journeys to the Oregon Territory, the Great Salt Lake Valley and the gold mines of California and Montana.

The museum sits on a high bluff that overlooks the crossing-over point and a breathtaking 360-degree view of rugged Wyoming landscape stretching for as far as the eye can see. On the day I visited, the wind was lively, cold and full of snow. The flag flew at half-mast in observance of Gerald Ford's death the previous day.

Why didn't I think to stop in the history museums of all the places I've visited these last three years? Besides providing a broader context for getting acquainted with a place, learning about others who have traveled where I am traveling offers a lot of food for thought (and blogging).

Looking at the artifacts on display, I thought again about material possessions in the lives of sojourners. Like me, at the start of their journey West, the immigrants made sometimes difficult decisions about what to carry and what to leave behind. And along the way events transpired that necessitated lightening their load even further. Sometimes they took on new weight, appropriating goods abandoned by travelers who preceded them. Sometimes after a death in their party, they made decisions about whether or not to take on the possessions of the deceased.

Pony Express riders also passed at the site. They were given "a pistol, intended for defending the mail against attack, and a Bible to keep them moral."

The longer I stay in a place, the more material objects I accumulate. To move from New Orleans to Gulfport last week, I had to pack boxes. A small pick-up couldn't hold everything. Among the things I am carrying to Gulfport that I did not carry into New Orleans in November 2005,

  • bed
  • TV
  • DVD player
  • desk
  • side table
  • altar table
  • 4 each of plates, saucers, bowls, salad plates and coffee cups; forks, table knives and teaspoons
  • 9 or 10 books of piano music
  • a guitar
  • 4 wooden chairs
  • a set of pots and pans and skillets
  • 5 or six bath towels
  • a boom box and about 60 CDs
Nothing I own defends against attack. Nothing keeps me moral. But I do alright.
ST owned a house for a little while in Massachusetts after years on the road. I don't remember now how she lost it (I'll look it up when I finally get the rest of my stuff from New Orleans). It was several more years before she had a stationary home again. What did she do with her stuff while she was on the road? Did she have any stuff? There is no record that she owned a gun. I suspect she owned a Bible.
I have a Bible but it's in storage with the rest of my stuff in CA.
So what's the point of this blog? Mainly, there's no point tonight. But I did succeed in getting myself to sit down in this mostly empty apartment and leave another post here. And that's good enough for today.