I woke up today with an ache in my chest. It’s a pain I’ve felt before, one I’ve come to know all too well. The German’s call it ‘fernweh’, and while there’s no English translation equivalence for it, it can be loosely defined as distant sickness. Unlike wanderlust, another German word literally translated as a desire to wander, fernweh can cause actual discomfort out of the desire to travel to undiscovered places.
Considering my constant affliction with wanderlust, I’ve been fairly good at keeping my conceptual travel plans at bay during a global pandemic. The old me would comb through travel websites, marking up an ever growing Adventure List. But, amid COVID-19 I’ve only skimmed through a single book — realizing at that moment I could check off the cover photo as ‘places I’ve been.’ All things considered, I’ve done an excellent job at ridding travel temptation during this quaran-time. Albeit, I’m unsure if it’s self-preservation or actual self control.
But this morning fernweh washed over me like a tidal wave, my gut instinct drowning in moments of what could be. My mind drifted to the mountains and I saw the big Montana sky. I heard the neighing of a horse I longed to ride through the valley and felt the wind blow through my hair as the dirt kicked up behind. Fernweh grew, pinching my arms and legs. It eventually gripped my emotions, the way a good kiss lingers even after lips have left– happy at the memory, saddened by its disappearance. Was it possible to miss a place I had never been, to feel so completely lost for something I had yet to experience? The emotion is anything but foreign and yet I somehow forgot all about it.
In an attempt to ease my fernweh, I began scrolling through images of past adventures. I may not be physically capable of boarding a flight right now but in the meantime I could at least travel down memory lane. I recalled a drive I took through Jackson, Wyoming in summer of 2017. My friend gave me the keys to his truck and I drove for two hours in a single direction, to the point cell reception and GPS were out of reach. Locals yelled at me for driving irresponsibly down side streets (it was a very big truck, turns were impossible, and I had no idea how to work it). Eventually, I got to a dirt road and drove to the end. I parked the truck, got out with no one in sight, phone completely out of service, and started to follow the sounds of the river. I kept walking down a narrow path that was created by the few wanderers before me. It was beautiful, and very representative of my personality– always the pathway less traveled, giving my mother a metaphorical heart attack with each anecdote.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that today is Earth Day, established in 1970 as a way to spread environmental awareness. April 22, 2020 marks its 50th anniversary, a milestone date that is observed on a global scale with over 190 countries engaged and 1 billion individuals mobilized in action. Heightened by the novel coronavirus, this year’s message includes contrasting before-and-after images and statistics. NASA stating the Himalaya’s are being seen for the first time in decades in parts of India, sights of jellyfish swimming through Venice’s clean canals devoid of gondolas, and the World Economic Forum reporting a decrease in global pollution. The American Museum of Natural History posted a video . It points to a population increase from 3.7 billion to 7.8 billion in only 50 years, and the detrimental effects on planetary health, including its toll on wildlife. Now with countries enforcing quarantining humanity is beginning to see the Earth, and all of its inhabitants, a lot clearer.
It’s as though my soul knew this, literally awakening with an empathetic understanding that the world would never be the same; a world currently on pause that I may not recognize in a post-pandemic era. Could my fernweh be a universal ‘om’ of sorts? A calling for travelers bound to their homes who yearn for a plane ticket? Or is it all just coincidence?
While it never took staying home to elicit a desire to book a flight, or a road trip, it does produce a newfound outlook of the world around me. So, today I celebrate Earth Day in my papasan chair, admittedly searching the internet for places to add to that Adventure List– Montana, Iguazu Falls, Antarctica, the Azores, Lake Tahoe, etc.. Each destination a natural wonder that will afford a greater sense of appreciation, and growth, when social distancing is over.