Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Minnesota, the Universe, and everything

I have made it to what was originally the only set destination on my trip.  I have pedaled 3320 miles, enough distance to have crossed the entire USA, and yet, I am just in Minnesota.  I feel accomplished and ready for the next step.  It is a relief to have come so far on such a tight schedule with such success.  I will now be in the company of good friends for the next week, and off to work in Northern MN for two months.

Check the YouTube link to the left for new videos. 

9/11/11 Day 64: Huron, SD to Lake Benton, MN: 101 miles

10 years have passed since “9/11”. I did not expect to be where I am now, rolling through cornfields and windmills at sunset in western Minnesota. I remember being woken up by my father on 9/11/01, and listening to the radio in a sleepy haze. I was home for the summer from my first year of college. The world has certainly changed since then, but mostly in directions that I wish it hadn't. People are more fearful, more paranoid and more annoyed at airport security. In those 10 years, no “terrorist” attacks of any significant proportion have taken place here. I'm sure that one day, we will be attacked again by zealous people who've been screwed over by American policy overseas, but isn't it time we stopped worrying so much, and got rid of some of the ridiculously invasive policies of “homeland security?”

3 days ago, I also did not expect to be where I am now. I thought it would take me another day to get to Minnesota, but after 120 miles yesterday, and 101 miles today, I am over the border. 221 miles of some of the flattest country I've ever seen. More wetlands and lakes than I expected, fewer trees than I hoped for. It was hot, and my sweat glands have had a full workout. Wind was not a major factor, which I think was lucky. Everyone here talks about the wind as daily part of their lives.

All that flat land gave me lots of time to think. I thought about all the roadkill I'd seen over the course of the trip: skunks, rabbits, cats, pheasants, turtles, frogs, ducks, snakes and lots of deer. Animals in all manner of decomposition. Today I saw a big turtle (its shell was about 12 inches long) on its way across the highway, and stopped to help it across. It got really angry when I picked it up, and hissed at me, snapping its head in and out, but I got it to the other side safely.

I thought about universal truths, religion and connection. This trip has been reinforcing two concepts in my mind over and over again: Everything is connected, and everything is changing, all the time. I have been reminded of these things not only by the cycles of life that I see going on around me at every moment, but also through messages from other people. I watched a documentary called, “Zeitgiest Addendum” (its very alternative – check it out) while I was in Washington state, and the main point it made toward the end was just those two truths – everything is connected, and everything is changing. They refer to the earth and everything on it as “emergent” to remind us that the way things are now is simply a moment in time, temporary, and it will change into something new, starting with the next moment.
A book I picked up off of a night table at the cabin I stayed in on the Missouri river was about native culture and religion. The first few pages address exactly those topics: everything is connected, and everything changes. As I walked into the theater in the visitor center at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, the voice of Chief Dan George came out from behind a screen showing silhouettes of people hiking into a sunset. “Everything is connected,” he said, “and this means that even the white men and Indians are brothers, and we hope that some day, they will understand this too.”
So much of what we do as humans in America at this stage in our history is to resist change. What a waste. The world will change whether we are resisting it or not. Instead, we must simply direct the change in a positive way. Time and time again, we must be the change that we want to see.

My thoughts on religion stemmed from my time with Jennifer, the woman running the ministry on the Pine Ridge reservation. Pine Ridge is the Oglala Lakota reservation where I watched the native funeral, and found out only later that it is also where the massacre at Wounded Knee took place, resulting in the final surrender of the plains Indians to the US Army's demands to give up their old ways and live on reservations. Jennifer's mission is ultimately to help convince as many natives as possible to accept Jesus and Christianity as their main belief system, and to drop any conflicting beliefs and/or traditions. While I feel that she is being a very caring, positive and helpful influence on the reservation, I also feel that her goals are not only a bit insensitive, but ultimately impossible. Her intentions are motivated purely by the good in her heart, and what she truly believes in, but these things are not in line with reality. The world will never unite in the name of a miracle worker who lived 2000 years ago. There is not enough tangible truth in that belief system to hold onto in the here and now. Native religion in many countries centers on the tangible things of everyday life; rain, sun, animals, the connectedness of all things. The idea that these things should be dropped for a story about a pregnant virgin and the son of an all-powerful consciousness somewhere out of the realm of our perception is a very hard sell.

Since high school, it seemed ridiculous to me that people could ever think that their religion is the only true and correct religion. Religion is nearly exclusively a matter of what a child is taught at a young age. If you are born in Saudi Arabia to a Islamic family, you will be taught to believe in Islam. If you are born in Israel to a Jewish family, you will be taught to believe in Judaism. Adoption yields the same results – an Arabic child adopted by a Christian family will be taught Christianity, and unless he or she is a “rebel”, or discovers some strong reason to question their teachings, they will remain with that worldview at least until they start thinking for themselves.
I can't help thinking what a huge help all of the missionaries and evangelists in this world would be if they were trying to unite people around universal truths that all people can believe in, rather than teachings from a very specific set of texts with a somewhat bumpy history. Devout followers of any religion will not convert to another, so why are people trying so hard to bring others to their point of view? Instead, why don't we find things that we can all believe in, all work toward, and all be a part of? Why don't we devote more time to working on the things that we can know through seeing, touching, tasting, feeling and hearing, because these have a much harder time conflicting.
With what we have discovered in the last century through scientific research, psychological analysis, study and observation of our changing planet, I believe that the time has come for a new way of life based on what we know about our world. We need to embrace the realities of the impact that humans are having on everything here, and decide what we want to do about it. Everything is connected. What this means is that with every action that we each take, we are affecting the entire rest of the world, and that in itself is a spiritual notion. We are a part of something greater than ourselves, whether we believe in it or not. We are a part of everything. We need to embrace the everything that we are a part of, and be the change we wish to see.

That got a little deeper and more preachy than I expected. I was on a roll. In another article, I am working out explaining the connections between everything in a way that is easy to understand, so that if “everything is connected” is not already obvious, then it may be more obvious afterward.

Last night I spent the night in a county park and met a couple of people, Nick and Julia from Minneapolis, who had just started a cycling tour in the opposite direction. I was the first other touring cyclist they'd run into, but they were already making friends and having a good time. We had some lat night discussions on routes, equipment and cycling in general, and parted quickly the next morning. They were excellent company.
I stopped at a you-pick raspberry farm today. Their price: you pick as much as you want, and leave half in their refrigerator. I got about ¾ lb. They were delicious.

9/12/11 Day 65: Lake Benton, MN to New Ulm, MN: 97 miles

You'd think a lot more would happen on a day where 100 miles have passed on a bike, but I think the opposite is in fact true. Longer days means less time off of the bike, less time for photos, for tourist sites, and for meeting people. It means more scenery, generally, but not today. Today was corn and soybeans. All genetically engineered, with tons of signs advertising the companies that engineered them. I would like to sit down and listen to some of the farmers, and see how they feel about genetic engineering. It looks like everyone here is quite supportive, judging from the never-ending fields. The amount of monoculture is overwhelming. I wonder what this place looked like 300 years ago?   

1 comment:

  1. Nice work, Poultin. Keep up the inquisitive attitude, you notice so much more that way. Inspiring trip you're on.