The Night Rider’s Lament

Family in Europe - 95

(Family Photo, Europe, 1995)

There’s an old country classic that has always resonated with me.  It’s one of my favorites and always touches my soul in a way few songs are able to.  The song, Night Rider’s Lament, is an old cowboy song about a cow hand reading a letter from a friend late at night. The song talks of the things he’s given up or delayed to pursue the lifestyle he’s chosen.  It talks about a wonderful woman passed over, life choices, opting for a road less-traveled, and forgoing many of the things we’re culturally told we should love and define our lives by.  It then follows with a chorus about the beauty of nature, the glory of the seasons, the majesty of the world, and the different types of companionship we might experience.

I like to think that, perhaps, I inherited a sliver of the old cowboy’s soul by way of my folks and had it ingrained in me as a young kid. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my dad’s lap on an old 1940’s Ford tractor grading the road to our house in southwestern Colorado. Despite these slightly more country roots, I’ve spent a majority of my life immersed in big cities. These cities are also where I often view myself as most comfortable and at ease.  This is the opposite of another piece of my core essence, which will always view the rural valleys deep within the San Juan Mountains as the place I think of as home when I close my eyes and let my mind wander before drifting off to sleep.  Despite that strange contrast, I’ve chosen to prioritize travel in my life. Where others invested their time and energies in passionate pursuit of a spouse, a job, a house, and a family, I’ve spent my early life chasing the horizon. To the extent that when I explain my lifestyle over the last few years to people who wonder at the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen, all I can do is shrug, smile, and explain, ‘No mortgage, no dog, no girlfriend’.  It’s not that I don’t value those things or that I don’t want them.  It’s just that for now, they’re not the thing that drives me forward.  It is a sentiment that many serial travelers may understand even though the nature of our relationship with discovery and the unknown is always different from individual to individual.

Earlier tonight as I sat besides one of the lakes here in Copenhagen, enjoying unusually warm weather on a still-crisp March evening, I took in the light of the moon, the stars, and the twinkling reflections of buildings as they cast their light across the still surface of the lake.  Lost in the moment, listening to my music as I sat smoking the tobacco pipe I picked up in southern Turkey several years ago, Night Rider’s Lament came on and it left me reflecting on where my future lies. It’s also likely no coincidence that my 29th birthday is just around the corner and with any birthday comes an added sense of introspection.

The song, combined with decisions about my future which I’ll likely be making in the next few weeks, left me thinking about choices, responsibility, distance, and family. Some might assume that when my brother and I both chose, within three days of each other, to head abroad for three-year periods with few opportunities to return stateside or to be co-present with family, that we lacked close family bonds. Yet, as I sat there staring out at the water through a small cloud of vanilla-scented smoke, I felt reunited with the rest of my loved ones. Where we’ve chosen to pursue paths that have placed us on different continents, thousands of miles apart, we still share one of the closest familial relationships I’ve ever encountered. We communicate with each other regularly, often daily, and when we do have the opportunity to come together – that’s been about once a year – we take to the road and travel together. These collective trips allow us to break free of the monotony of sterile routine and old memories, while forging new experiences which we create and share.

As I sit beneath the stars and a lazy partial moon, the smoke before me isn’t something that leaves me sitting behind a wall of solitude.  It is a connection that leaves me partially in the moment and partially reflecting on similar evenings shared with my brother, father, and mother. Sitting with our pipes, cigars, or guitars while enjoying similarly crisp spring air with views out over the Zambian bush, San Juan Mountain range, and the Scottish Isles. It is a wondrously rich experience which I treasure more than anything I own or the vast majority of my more material accomplishments.  It also puts my spirit at rest, as I wonder if I’m making and have made the right choices and if I should press forward, continuing to pursue the path I’ve chosen.

It’s no easy thing to be far from loved ones without the sense of security and permanence more traditional lifestyles provide.  Especially when we face challenging decisions, new opportunities, or the biting sense of isolation that comes with hearing about the loss of extended family, familial health issues, or in the moments where we discuss, across great distances, our fears, our frustrations, or our failings. In these moments it is tempting to pack it all in and rush back to the security and comfort that a more traditional lifestyle would offer.  Yet, it is also in these same moments that the most self growth, discovery, and realizations are born.

On that note, I’ll finish with an original song my mom gifted my brother and I which mirrors this evening’s musings and always serves as a wonderful reminder to press forward along the path I’ve chosen.  Even when it’s uncertain or uncomfortable.