wandering birds

This morning the sun has risen into a clear sky. There is a skim of ice on our pond. There is no wind. Yesterday, though, was a gray and blustery day—an excellent day for wind power, but not good for doing much else outdoors.

I stood inside at the window by a space heater with the huddled dogs, and watched finches, a whole flock of them, stopping at our pond for water. They alighted for a just few moments, used a “desert driftwood” elbow I had installed for them as a perch to reach the water’s surface (used just as visualized!), and then they flitted away before I could even get a picture to show you.

These momentary visitors, though, reminded me of something I have not yet told you about: why I named this diary after the Wandervögel or “Wandering Birds.”

Wandervogel was a back-to-nature hiking movement started by a group of young people in the late 1890s who imagined themselves to be a tribe of poet-vagabonds, and they spent their weekends and summers hiking and exploring the countryside in the vicinity of their home town of Steglitz near Berlin. It was the first organized youth movement in history.

The Wandervögel were also the first hippies of the twentieth century, progenitors of the tie-dyed New Age ideals and mind which gripped my generation for a time when we were kids. As I did in my youth (as what has brought me to Estrella Vista now), the Wandervögel yearned for a simpler, more natural way of life based on Folkish values very different from those which had shaped the Industrial Revolution and modern big-city life of the time.

They adopted Romantic styles of dress and camp culture like you can still experience today around the after-hours campfires of Renaissance Festival casts and vendors. Wandervogel was a movement of youthful idealism which embraced all kinds of ideas which are today the mainstays of mainstream urban food co-op and health-foods-store culture.

It was a movement of self-emancipation from the stifling strictures of their parents’ world.

They called for a Jugendkultur—a culture of youth led by youth—in which the individual was truly valued. They believed they were creating a culture which would provide something greater to believe in than the ways of their parents.

For anyone who remembers the sting of tear gas on one’s college mall during the Cambodian Bombing Crisis, the animating spirit of the Wandervogel Movement evokes passionate associations.

At the height of the Wandervogel Movement in the late 1920s, an estimated fifty thousand German young people were participating. (Today they number only 5,000 or so.) Thousands of young people in hiking shorts and colorful costumes could be seen hiking around the German countryside with pennants flying, guitars and rucksacks slung on their backs.

They were traveling farther and wider. Now every self respecting group went abroad at least once a year. The more adventurous groups toured places like the North African deserts, Lapland, and the Himalayas, buoyed along by their ethos of Freedom, Self-Responsibility, and Adventure.

The values of the Wandervögel so infuriated the authoritarian National Socialists that Hitler banned their existence in 1933. He used the name “Wandervogel” for the rest of his life as an insult to express scorn and disdain.

I was first exposed to the Wandervogel idea more than thirty-five years ago when I lived in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. There I met a great many young adventurers who were making the Capetown-to-Cairo trek, and I provided hospitality to all who desired it. It was an opportunity to meet a succession of young people who were exploring the world, as one visitor remarked, “like wandering birds.”

This was my first exposure to a member of the Wandervogel Movement, and I have been inspired ever since by his example of exploring and experiencing the world in a brave, self-reliant, and inquisitive way.

When I moved to the Big Bend wilderness of West Texas, it reminded me in many ways of my East African experience. The landscape is very similar and, as in Africa, I see a succession of visitors passing through.

Some of the most important experiences I have had here have involved my providing hospitality to some of these travelers. Hospitality is a spiritual practice for me, a way of welcoming and serving the godness in others. This is an important element, an essence, of the life I’m creating at Estrella Vista.

Some of these Wandering Birds stick, like Paul and Derek and Kathy. They come back time and again and become family. Others land here once and, like the finches, fly off never to be seen again.

For me the important thing is to be supporting young people who are questing to discover a better life. We need that kind of optimism now. Civilization needs the hope that only the young can provide.

If Estrella Vista can provide a watering stop for them on their flights from place to place, a place of temporary rest and safe comfort on their journeys of exploration, a place of spiritual peace, that is our goal.

I’m sure this Diary will tell their stories from time to time.


4 Responses to “wandering birds”

  1. 1 Mary Binger
    March 3, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Dan,
    I’m on the road from Big Pine Key (near Key West) driving back to MN. Canoe on the car-top rack, bike and grandma’s walker hanging off the rear rack, 2 pooches and a full load of gear inside. Very Beverly Hillbillies…

    Those turkey vultures you’re waiting for? There were thousands and thousands of them soaring above the National Wildlife Refuge lands of Big Pine Key, and the local naturalists said they come there to gather and breed before heading out to their summer homes. So,maybe some of your Texan birds were there. (Can you verify this “bird fact” with any local birders or naturalist you know?) It was really a remarkable sight, and I kept wondering if the vultures were gathering there because of a large dump of animal carcasses or some other gruesome reason!

    Also, were you in East Africa with the Peace Corps, and which years were you there?

    Lastly, your entry today reminds me of all the warm-hearted, generous hospitality I encountered daily while backpacking alone in New Zealand for 6 months back in 1983-84. I now try to make my suburban townhome in MN a safe travel stop for “wandering birds”.

    • March 4, 2010 at 1:32 am

      I’ll check in with my naturalist gurus and get back to you. I am beginning to get these technical questions and realize I know embarrassingly little.

      Be safe on your Beverly Hillbilly road trip.

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