Looking for hobbits

I showed some visiting scientists from India my favourite spot in our nation’s capital – Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. Every time I walk through it I am once again overwhelmed and sobered, and so were they. Amid all of the kitschy triumphalist monuments, this is such a powerful work of art. When I walk its length, as difficult and sad as the experience is, I find myself proud to be part of a nation that is capable of asking itself such deep and difficult questions, of having the courage to choose a memorial that conveys the tragedy of so many having died so young.

I flew from Washington D.C. to Seattle Washington, marvelling that I could travel more than three thousand miles and arrive at a place with the same name.

The first thing I did in Seattle today was go with some friends on a hike up Mount Si (as in “sigh”). It was beautiful – a deep and lush mountain forest with winding streams and the air filled with swirling mists. The further up the mountain we went, the more it felt like we were entering Middle Earth. I half expected to see some hobbits walk by.

After the completely constructed world of D.C., the feeling of being away from civilization was simply delightful. At various points we would just stop and look around us, taking it all in. From time to time we would pass other travellers, and I imagined them all revelling in their blissful escape into nature, far from the cares of daily life.

At one point we came upon a man wearing a “Rochester” tee shirt. My friend Andy, who had just flown in from Rochester New York, was excited to see a fellow towns-man, so we started up a conversation. It turned out the man was actually from Rochester, Minnesota. So there it was again – two places, one name.

A little further up the mountain we passed two young women. A dog was happily running about their feet, clearly enjoying the mountain air. I remember at that moment thinking how lovely it was that these two women were spending the day, like us, away from the cares of the world below.

Just then one of the women, unexpectedly, shouted aloud. She turned to her friend and said: “He says he dreamed about me last night.” Her friend looked at her and said “Ew! Awkward?” The first woman nodded and replied “Awkward!”

It took me a moment to figure out that the first woman was reading a text message off her cell phone. Suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps not everybody up here on the mountain was looking for hobbits.

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