Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The yellow brick road

I wonder, have you been watching 'Supersized Earth', Dallas Campbell's documentary series on television?  In the course of three programmes, billed as an exploration of how we've engineered a man-made world, Dallas Campbell has been laying out the changes that have revolutionised our planet over the past forty years . . . the expanding cities . . . high-speed travel . . . agricultural innovation.

Whilst I gazed incredulously at the towering buildings, and at the density and acreage of intensive farming,  it was the programme on contemporary travel that left the strongest impression.

I wonder, have you ever paused to think that, at any given moment, a million of the world's population is airborne?
As you read this, a changing swathe of mankind is eating, drinking, and working on laptops high above us in the skies.
It's quite a thought that the equivalent of a large, bustling city is constantly carrying out an active, productive life out of sight above our heads.

We travel . . . we certainly travel!  In the twenty-first century we acknowledge no boundaries, no limits.  Suspension bridges sway between mountain peaks . . . railways cling to ravines . . . rockets propel us into space.  The world is ours to conquer.

I should be impressed . . . I am.  I'm awestruck.  But I can't help wondering whether we've become obsessed with travel.  Not only do we refuse to recognise limits to our exploration, but we are equally adamant that speed should be the prime factor.  Travel has evolved into a competition . . . a competition to get us to any and every destination faster than ever before.

Long ago, at a time when man's speed of movement was literally limited by horse-power, Puck vowed to put  'a girdle round the earth in forty minutes'.
Is this our aim?  But what if the girdle we've created is turning into a strait-jacket?
The more we tighten the girdle, the more we shrink our planet.  Is it our aim to reduce our magnificent world to  a theme park . . . and then, like over-indulged children, go in search of other planets to conquer?

Is this what travel is all about?  To rush from A to B, trip over each other, and then rush back again?
It may sound a fanciful question, but could all this effortless, high-speed travel distort our concept of life's journey?  Are we tempted to believe that we can tunnel beneath our obstacles, hover above our problems and, given the wherewithal, always opt for first-class service?
You couldn't get away from the reality of a rutted road in a stage-coach.

When I think of representations of life's journey, do you know what comes to mind?  It's a favourite film of my childhood.
Do you remember 'The Wizard of Oz'?  Do you remember Dorothy, Toto, and her trio of companions stepping out bravely along the winding, yellow brick road?

For all its fantasy, surely this is a far more down-to-earth analogy of our progress through life than a trip to Paris by Eurostar?  It's a journey of individual steps.

Secure in the support of her ruby red slippers, Dorothy follows the twists and turns of the yellow brick road.  In fact, such is its winding nature that the final destination is far from certain . . . unlike our prime requirement for contemporary travel.

Of particular importance is the fact that the road is made of bricks, not tarmac.  It is full of features and incidents, progress is made one brick at a time.

Is your life more like a brick road than a seat in a supersonic jet?  Mine certainly is!  And have  you noticed that no two bricks are identical . . . the road can be well laid and smooth, or, alternatively, it can be poorly constructed and bumpy.  But when we are making our way along a brick road, as distinct from cocooned in an aircraft, our feet are in contact with reality, each step is different, our speed is our own.

As an additional bonus, we even have time to notice and appreciate any wild flowers that might find a foothold in the cracks between the bricks.

So . . . could it be time to abandon high-speed travel in favour of the civilities and courtesies of the yellow brick road?  Time, perhaps, to step aside every now and then, smile at our fellow travellers and even say, "After you . . . "?

As Dorothy discovered, you don't need modern technology to transport you over the rainbow!

As for those ruby red slippers . . . you know when you're wearing them . . . I know when I'm wearing them . . . and surely nothing else matters?