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A cross between a reticent memoir and a revealing travelogue, ‘A Transcendental Journey’ is Stephen Evans‘ wistful ruminations on love, life, longing and literature. Stashing his 1992 Teal Blue Chevy Cavalier’s trunk with a load of books, and arming himself with a Rand-McNally Map, Evans spontaneously sets off on the I-90 highway that passes 100 miles south of Minneapolis and extends in an almost straight line to the famous Yellowstone, before leading onto the Pacific Ocean. Accompanying the intrepid traveler is Bernard, a toy moose, eight inches tall and with auburn antlers. Bernard finds himself, occupying various dwelling points on various occasions. From the spacious luxury of a dashboard to the claustrophobic confines of a knapsack, Bernard is the silent witness to whom Evans swears fealty and loyalty.
Over a course of 20 days, Evans drives 4000 miles at approximately 200 miles per day. A strict vegetarian, Evans is also an incorrigible Coke (not the narcotics kind or the mineral) freak. He notes down the exact size of each Coke Can/bottle purchased (20oz; 16oz and SUPERSIZE) during the course of his journey. Amongst the books selected by Evans for this cross country traipsing, is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s collection of essays. Every night, as a non-descript motel shelters an exhausted Evans, he curls up in bed and reads an essay written by Emerson. In his relentless quest to seek what Emerson was after, Evans begins finding himself.
The book is a genuine encomium to the dazzling splendour of Nature and a beseeching plea for humanity to revel in such magnificence. Enraptured by canyons plunging down hundreds of feet, entranced by a wolverine pup amusing itself by engaging in an unending loop of leaps, and enticed by the scalding hot spurts of geysers, Evans takes in the nuanced aspect of nature as Mother Nature herself takes him in. The observer is transformed into the observed. Emerson’s paean to the untamed and untainted becomes Evan’s exhilarating path to distilled wisdom.
The resilience of Emerson is the bounciness of nature. The ‘Old Faithful’, a conical geyser, is the biggest regular geyser in the Yellowstone National Park. ‘The Old Faithful’ has been erupting in nearly the same way throughout the recorded history of Yellowstone. Old Faithful has rarely missed an eruption in over 120 years of its recorded history. Emerson, despite experiencing tragedy of untold proportions, bounced back every single time calamity struck to become the pioneer of the concept of Transcendentalism. Emerson lost his father when still a child of eight. His beautiful wife died of tuberculosis after only two years of marriage. His brothers soon succumbed to the same illness. Yet Emerson continued undeterred in his relentless pursuit of discovery of the self.
‘A Transcendental Journey’ is also peppered with humour that is exquisitely well timed. At one point in his arduous journey, Evans gets lost and instead of painstakingly finding his way back by taking recourse to cartographical means, he just lets the road be his guide. In the process, he almost ends up driving into the vast expanse of Bear Lake! Kevin Costner also keeps making his presence felt throughout Evan’s journey. Just west of Murdo South Dakota, Evans meets Cisco, the colt which Costner rode in his popular movie ‘Dances With The Wolves’. The plaid Cisco however does not evince any interest in encouraging the admiration for him by his visitor. “Head down, he never moved but for a sporadic listless swish of his tail. Cisco looked really depressed.”
Mount Rushmore does not mesmerize Evans so much as what a vast expanse of undulating plains or an unending panorama of rolling peaks do. “The four faces gave the disconcerting impression of men in crowded public restroom trying desperately to avoid noticing one another.” But the immortality of the artist merges with the immortality of the art which ultimately coalesces into the everlasting immortality of nature and the stone into which the art has been sculpted.
Plagued by acrophobia, Evans drives with a constant prayer on his lips and a heart performing cartwheels as he negotiates dizzying bends on narrow mountain ranges such as the Grand Teton, the Catocins of Maryland, the Blue Ridge, the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Absaroka of Yellowstone.
Evans finds beauty and meaning in the most obscure of nature’s creations. In the onomatopoetically named Winnewissa Falls (meaning jealous maiden in the Dakota Language), Evans discovers music.
As Evans illustrates, eminent philosophers are of the belief that there are just two paths in our world. For Immanuel Kant, it was Practical & Pure Reason; for Coleridge, Fancy & Imagination; for Merleau-Ponty, Sense & Nonsense. But for Evans all of these converge at the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient twin paths of Facts & Truth.
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”, urged Emerson to his readers. Evans not only embraces this philosophy wholeheartedly but also leaves a trail for those who are keen to seek what life has to offer.
(A Transcendental Journey by Stephen Evans is published by Time Being Media LLC and will be available for sale beginning 10th September 2022).
Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy