The Wanderer arrives at a clearing, with no way of hearing which way the wander has gone. He moves through the clearing, looking for a way out and something to hold onto to keep him going.
Written and Sound Designed by T.H. Ponders. Produced by Jordan Stillman. Music and Score by T.H. Ponders.
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This episode of The Wanderer was produced on the stolen lands of the Massachusett, Miami, Menominee, Peoria, and Potawatomi peoples. But the struggle for indigenous rights and sovereignty extends far beyond our own borders. If you enjoy today’s episode, consider joining us in making a donation to Land is Life, an Indigenous led non-profit, working to support the rights, self determination, and participation in policy making of Indigenous people all around the world. You can make a donation today by visiting landislife.org/donate, or by clicking on the link in the show notes. Thank you.
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SFX: A driving beat. A sweet melody. Birds chirping.
I don’t think Wandering is anything terribly exciting to look at. It probably just looks like a person walking through the woods. But when you experience it, when you’re in it— it’s like water flowing through a stream, certain of its course, swift and unburdened by sudden obstacles. When I was just a boy, my grandfather taught me archery. He told me “An amateur appears to move fast. A master appears to move not at all.” When the mind and body are moving as one, the time between decision and action becomes an ebb and flow, a kind of dance.
SFX: Notes plucked out in the melody.
Each step bears no hesitation because it is the step that you have heard the forest sing to you, and you have committed to sing it back. Like harmonizing with a song you’ve never heard before, but knowing just which note comes next. The best singers, if not by memory, by intuition seem to know the harmonies to every song—mind and body working as one. Appearing to move, not at all. I’ve long since put down the bow but I’ve held onto that lesson.
The Forest has been good to me these past couple days. Given me plenty to eat, plenty to drink. Warm fires, cool mornings. The melody has been rather lovely. But, of course, when the forest gives, the forest…
SFX: The music stops abruptly. The Wanderer sighs.
…takes. A clearing.
If wandering is like singing, then this is the part where the forest bids me to sing a solo; she winks and whispers, “I’ll meet you on the other side.”
I’ve been lucky, up until now, to avoid any clearings, but of course, she would put one in front of me eventually. The problem is that in this meadow, the Wander dissipates. Like the mist at the bottom of a waterfall that feeds into a big mountain lake. Somewhere, on the other side is an outlet, a place where the Wander picks up again. But even the most weathered boatswain would be hard pressed to find this current.
Nothing. Not even a whisper.
Infinite paths ahead of me. Only one of them is right.
No guidance. Nothing clear about a clearing. I guess I just have to choose. Choose and hope. Or…
Or. Or. Or. Or. Or you could just give up? Better to give up than make the wrong choice.
Not here. Not now. I have no time for this.
SFX: The Devil sneers.
Well, if any direction could be the right direction, then I guess… every direction is the right direction? All I can do is keep going and hope I catch the Wander on the other side.
SFX: Footsteps as The Wanderer begins to walk across the field. A sweet guitar melody begins, building to bright chords and fading.
I would never say it, never even dare think it anywhere near her, but… it’s kind of nice out here, away from the Forest and the Wander. It reminds me… it reminds me of Andrew.
SFX: A sweet guitar melody begins.
Of the long walks we used to take. There was never really a destination—Andrew would just take my hand and I would go wherever he led. I don’t think he knew where he was going either, but that’s what’s so beautiful about Andrew—his sense of freedom, an internal call that only he knows how to answer. That’s the thing he was… is always best at. Me on the other hand—my freedom is but to revel in his.
SFX: More footsteps and guitar as he wanders to a different part of the field. We hear a huge school of prairie birds fly up, the kind that swarm and sway in a flock. Birds chirping.
When I was young, Ma and Pa would hitch up the wagon and take me and my sister on long rides out into the prairie to spot birds. They had all the books and knew when and where and by which water source the birds they meant to see would land. They tried to get me and Dani interested but… well, you know how children are.
Still, they’re amazing, aren’t they? A whole flock of prairie birds, dancing this way and that, carried about by the wind. So many birds that as a child I thought it must be a thousand or more, swaying in the sky, moving as one mass. Prairie birds, I always called them, on account of seeing them on the prairie. I’m sure Ma corrected me a half dozen times, but no name ever stuck, except the ones I gave them myself. Prairie birds…
SFX: Guitar continues. Footsteps as The Wanderer walks on. A whistle of wind.
SFX: Footsteps and guitar. Birds chirping. The sound of a babbling stream.
Pa often used to tell me about the ancient scholars with their paradoxes and riddles—how you could never make it anywhere if you alway had to get halfway first, and halfway again, and halfway again; how the flowing river exists only in concept; its actual contents always shifting, always new water, depositing new sediment, carrying away the old. How if the river never changed, the fish would get used to our lures and hooks, and we’d never catch another fish again, and then we’d all starve and die.
Pa always had a way of making the big ideas into games, challenges, goading me on, ensnaring me in some truth I couldn’t possibly think to be true and couldn’t possibly think to be otherwise. And I loved falling for them, loved to be tricked in this way.
As I got older, it soon became apparent that there were only so many ancient paradoxes and riddles. But every time he took me fishing, every time he started off about how this river wasn’t here the last time we were here, I’d listen and smile, and let him tell it all the same.
The first few times he told me about the river, I would pick up on something new about the tale. Then I started to pick up something new about me. Near the end, I was learning more about him from the parts he chose to tell and the parts he didn’t. It was never the same story twice, and we were never the same people.
SFX: A whisper of wind. The trickle of the stream. GuitarThe sound of the flock of birds again, and somewhere like a distant echo…
ANDREW (an echo)
This way, my love…
WANDERER (under his breath)
SFX: Footsteps rushing forward. Labored breathing. The space of the clearing closes around us, as The Wanderer approaches the edge of the forest. The drums grow loud and rise to a crescendo.
WANDERER (under his breath, out of breath)
I found it. I found it.
SFX: Footsteps. The music crescendos. A gust of wind.
SFX: A sweet guitar melody is plucked out on the guitar. Crackling of a fire
I’ll be there soon.
The Voice of The Wanderer is T.H. Ponders. The Voice of Andrew is Adam Qutaishat. The Wanderer is written and sound designed by T.H. Ponders. Produced by Jordan Stillman. Show art and design is by V Silverman. Additional art by Olivia Li.
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