One Year Later

There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own... They come in all colours. They can be Christians or Hindus or Muslims or Jews or pagans or atheists. They can be young or old, men or women, soldiers or pacifists, rich or poor... They share with each other, across all the nations, common values of humour and understanding... They form a mighty nation, if they only knew it.

Jan Morris
Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere

IT'S SLIPPING toward mid-morning on a crisp autumn Friday, and I am strolling, pen and notebook in hand, along a forested mountain trail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, an hour's drive from home. At dawn I parked my car at the trailhead and started walking. Since then I've seen only two other hikers, a young man and woman who disappeared down a different fork. Overhead, one hundred-foot tall pine trees veil a mother-of-pearl sky. Their trunks are far too big for me to encircle with my arms, but by peering around them I can catch glimpses of the denim-colored Pacific, a couple miles distant and several hundred feet below.

Last year, on Tony's fourth day in America, we puttered above these woods in a four-seater aeroplane. Fifteen months have now passed since one jetliner flew Tony back to the Philippines, and thirteen months since two others slammed into the New York City skyline.

A mile back I paused at my "secret spot," on the edge of a pristine golden meadow the size of a baseball field. Several years ago a large pine toppled from the surrounding forest onto the meadow's fringe, where it has now reincarnated as a bench. When Tony was here we sat down on it and I asked him, please, should he ever find himself thinking of me, to picture me sitting on my log at meadow's edge, writing in my notebook, listening to the birds, alert for the deer that sometimes stroll out of the woods-and for the mountain lion with merciless eyes that I always sense watching me, but that I have so far glimpsed only once.

Tony writes or calls every couple of months now. His voice and his letters sound strong and thoughtful, and overall he seems to be rather pleased with life. I do wonder about the inevitable changes—was my invitation a good thing for him, a bad thing, or some bittersweet combination?—and I am trying to arrange a trip back to Banaue to gauge the impact for myself. Also, I would just like to see Tony and his family (including a new baby boy named...Bradley!) and their guesthouse. Tony says that most of the remodeling work is completed and now they are awaiting their first guest-which may turn out to be me. Tony reports seeing maybe one tourist a week in Banaue these days-ten years ago there were too many to count. Last week a nightclub in Bali exploded in terror-nearly 200 people died, most of them backpackers.

If I have learned anything from my own travels and from my adventure with Tony, it is this: People everywhere—and not just a few, but a landslide majority—ache for a change in the global conversation. We are weary to the marrow of the same old yammering between governments, fed up with people tossing bombs at each other—whether it is our purported enemies doing the tossing, or our own nominal leaders.

On the morning that the twin towers thundered to the ground I awoke in my sleeping bag atop a seaside cliff, not far from here, in time to watch what now seems like the last innocent sunrise. In the afternoon an incoming hiker told me the news. Since then I have come back many times to walk these trails and ruminate, and earlier this year I came up with a plan of action. Five weeks ago, on September 11, in the lobby of the hotel in San Francisco where Tony and I spent a few nights last summer, I held an event to announce the establishment of a new nonprofit organisation: "Backpack Nation."

It is fair to call Backpack Nation a pipe dream. It is based on nothing but an often-unsupportable faith in the fundamental goodness and kindness of human beings. And on a gut feeling that, of all the possible options available to us as a race, we will choose to embrace the growing understanding that we are all part of one enormous family.

Successful families share more than goodwill—they share resources. And Backpack Nation's first strategic act will be to deputize individual travelers from the Western cultures, where 3 billion human beings live in relative luxury, and send them as freelance "ambassadors" to the less-wealthy cultures, where 3 billion other human beings live on less than $2 a day. Each ambassador will have a simple mission: to choose one of the countless compelling situations he or she is sure to encounter—an individual, family, organization, or village somewhere in the developing countries—and deliver $10,000.

I envision Backpack Nation in its full-blown maturity as a roving diplomatic corps of thousands, assigned to the cheap hotels, beach bungalows, and villages of the developing world. Sometimes the logistics and the finances that will be required seem overwhelming to me. But the first step on the road to the improbable is almost always quite doable, and I've committed myself to seeing the launch of the first ambassador by mid-2003. Scientists theorize that a butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia can cause a hurricane in Miami. Is it not also possible to think that simple acts of humanity might cause gale-force shifts in the winds of conversation?




It's early afternoon now, and I'm alone on a cliff over the Pacific, up the coast from where I awakened on that last innocent morning. I won't be here to see the sun splash down into the water tonight. My editor told me a few days ago that it was time to reprint more copies of this book—which began nearly three decades ago as another na´ve pipe dream. She has heard the initial enthusiastic response to Backpack Nation and has invited me to add a few pages. I came out here today to write them, and now it's time to get back to Oakland, to the harder work, and to follow this project wherever it leads.

Oct 18, 2002
Arch Rock, Pt. Reyes National Seashore, California

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