THE Canada geese in our Colorado town are playing at migrating again. They enjoy the local golf course, yards, and parks immensely, but every once in a while, certain repressed urges surface in some of the leaders, who then organize the others into a typical V-formation to soar from north to south across town. Then, the geese make a large circle and eventually return to City Park Lake, where they happily rediscover their own turf. As they land, they begin to strut and cackle to each other joyously, as if finishing a travel adventure. Over the years, these geese have decided that seasonal migration is, literally, for the other birds. I was out in the backyard, raking leaves, when another of these pretend migrations occurred. The geese stretched out their necks and honked ``goodbye'' as they passed overhead. I must admit to having felt somewhat left out. I mean, after all, there I was, confronted with earthbound chores while a gaggle of geese flew on, on outstretched wings....
I smashed the pile of dry leaves with my rake. My dear friend from junior high, high school, and college days had just gone to France. France .... Even though my undergraduate degree was in French, and I thought I knew all about the construction of the Eiffel Tower, Mallarm'e's poetry, the reigns of the Louis, the grasses of Avignon, and the history of Normandy, I had never actually GONE to France -- where I could immerse myself (and all my knowledge) in the physical country. I was sure a trip to France was just what I needed.
Ah. La Belle France. I sat on the leaves, which crackled under me like goose laughter. The sky was a brilliant blue. I thought of Susie. She had never been to France either -- even though she, too, had dreamed of it. I was really glad she had the chance to realize her ... our ... fantasies.
As we chatted in a restaurant before she left, I told her to pick up a pen-and-ink sketch of Montmartre from some starving artist living on the Left Bank.
Driving home later, I realized that my conception of the Left Bank, of Montmartre, even of the whole of France itself, was formed by my preconceptions, which had remained stagnant. France had become a symbol more of what I wanted it to be than of what it probably really was.
Going to France, or anywhere, with that sort of baggage, I reasoned, would be a clear setup for a letdown. I began to think about travel.... Travel is wonderful. I was sure of that. I loved every bit of travel -- even the inconveniences and misadventures -- because they make such interesting stories when you get back home. But, the importance of travel is to see and understand new things ... isn't it? The leaves made no response. Neither did the geese, which were headed back to City Park Lake.
If we go outward to find and experience something new, then we can't take our preconceptions with us. We must be able to look about us with new eyes and be ready for the unexpected revelations. One lone goose, which wasn't as fast as the others, honked and flapped noisily overhead, trying to catch up. As I looked, my vision snagged on the leaves left hanging on my backyard trees. There weren't many leaves left, but those that remained were full of color against the startlingly blue sky. I had never noticed that before. I had resented those leaves in fall because of all the raking up I always had to do. I had assumed that the leaves on the trees in Paris would be much more interesting to sit and look at, I suppose.
I'm sure that someday I'll go to France. But I think I'll try to unload some of these preconceptions before I go. Foremost being the attitude that one has to go away to experience freshness and newness. The lone goose seemed to have made it to his fellow geese, and the sky was once again empty of migrations. A leaf fell and twisted slowly in its descent, landing near me. Instead of tossing it into the trash bag, I picked it up and looked at it. It was quite beautiful, actually....