19 September 2014

Cultivating Memories

The whole bucket list thing has bothered me for a long time, but I couldn't put my finger on why -- and Rebecca Mead has just nailed it in the New Yorker:
Dropping by Stonehenge for ten minutes and then announcing you’ve crossed it off your bucket list suggests that seeing Stonehenge—or beholding the Taj Mahal, or visiting the Louvre, or observing a pride of lions slumbering under a tree in the Maasai Mara—is something that, having been done, can be considered done with.
Mead suggests, instead, a list of "touchstones to be sought out over and over."

I've been wanting for years to go to Wales. I finally got there a few weeks ago, and spent two days exploring along the route of Offa's Dyke, and three nights camped at the foot of Mt. Snowdon, climbing in rain on our last day in Wales.

But we got lucky: by the time we reached the summit, the weather had cleared, and we had stunning views off into the distance in all directions.

During the trip, I realized there's a good chance I'll never go there again: life is getting shorter at the front end. But Mead points out that we can still revisit such things in memory. I will enjoy the recollection for the rest of my life.

Some other memories I cherish:
  • climbing Mt. Washington as a teenager with my family, including my Guatemalan brother
  • biking across the Peloponnesian peninsula in Greece, stumbling across 3000-year-old bridges and other ancient sites along the way
  • camping at the foot of Snæfellsjökull in Iceland
  • bicycling around Lake Constance with the Alps in the distance
  • crossing the Berner Oberland on foot with The Mate
  • hiking in the Dolomites with the Mate and The Offspring
  • biking in the Outer Hebrides with the Mate, on our honeymoon
  • looking the Beowulf manuscript in the British Library
  • living as an exchange student in the Valais with my Swiss family
  • climbing Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with several of my cousins, just last summer
  • sightseeing in Rome with The Mate and The Offspring
I love the idea that, even if I never hike those trails again, never again see the Parthenon or the Colosseum or look down from the summit of Mt. Snowdon, I can always summon the memories of places I've been and people I've spent time with.

And that appeals to me a lot more than making a list of 100 or 1000 things to do or see and crossing them off as "done."