Odessa, Ukraine

Wandering To Be Found

A Traveler's Look At Belonging

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Discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes

__Marcel Proust

Imagine freedom: what comes to mind? In mine is the image of two one-way tickets. Hardly surprising. I, like most of us, long to travel with no particular destination, no agenda. The wanderer has become an archetype of this time in history, an unrivaled symbol of independence. But getting lost isn’t the only form freedom can take. In fact, the very antithesis of getting lost – belonging – offers its own freedom, deposited right on your doorstep. No chasing it down, no foraging the ends of the earth. Recently I realized that the freedom I desired lie in belonging, and I found my path to it in the Ukrainian mountains.

The Carpathians carry the touch of cold stones and chilly water, the smell of pine needles, the taste of soft, salty cheeses bought in the nearest village. They are the woodnote, the deepest view of this natural world.

Each morning at half past five, herds of sheep are already being pastured. In recent years, raw wool is one of the main sources of income for this village, resting at one hundred meters above sea level. Long ago, families in Ukraine knew the secrets of wool yarn, but the influences of globalization have altered more than just economics in the area. Spending time on producing items by hand is nonsense to a modernized culture, but even a quick caress of hand-spun wool illuminates the past. I wonder what will become of this place, centuries from now. It’s a magic place, when the children count sheep as the sun goes down, not to fall asleep, but to signal the end of a days work, and account for each member of their precious herd.

In the Carpathian village of Iza, willow weaving is still a prominent family business. There is a special kind of vine is being grown here, instead of the more conventional crop, potatoes. This hand-crafted art is passed down to children for practical reasons, as well as heritage. The locals weave countless items for daily use: baskets, bins, boxes. They even weave the furniture. Both women and men participate in the task, and even children are involved despite its complicated, intricate processes. First, the vine must be cut, boiled, cleaned. Then sorted, dried and dunked again. No glues or paint are used. Each family has its own technique, one maintained over the generations, weaving the bond of craft, function, and family tighter with each passing year.

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Like the warmth of the bonfire after the long and exhausting day of exploring, a mug of hot tea, and a kind friend who welcomes you, I returned home from the village. Although I grew up by the sea, there will for me always be the allure of the mountains. I didn’t have to go far, and in traveling just outside of my own comfort and patterns of life, I embraced an entirely new dimension of home. Discovering your country can be as much fascinating as going on a world tour, and gives us the freedom to stay. As long as we are free in our own hearts and minds, beauty and wonder are wherever we look for them. Wise wanderers never get lost; they simply learn to belong.

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