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Nate Petersen

Kerouac Followed Me from San Francisco to Paris

By 2016, Europe, Uncategorized No Comments

Original On The Road Manuscript

The overarching (somewhat extracurricular) theme of my Europe trip was flirting with modern art; looking for meaning in the deconstructed chaos that is the abstract. Upon arriving in Paris, I saw a poster in the subway for a “Beat Generation” exhibit at the Pompidou. I was bewildered to see the names of my beatnik heroes (Ginsburg, Burroughs, Cassady, and Kerouac) in Paris. I felt the sensation of an “Oh! What a small world!” chance run-in with a good friend in a foreign city. I had spent the better part of the previous six months learning about these hedonistic hipsters and their rebellion against the status quo. My eyes drooled.

Inside the front entrance of this, the largest modern art museum in Europe, I stood at a juncture. I savored each salivating option. To my left was the Beat Generation. Straight ahead was Paul Klee. To my right was the permanent collection. My sober feet led my muddy mind lefty-Lucy. I wore the goofy grin of a giddy, grade school girl.

As I approached the entrance, I walked alongside a timeline that mapped out famous events that shaped the Beat Generation. I floated through the decades and I confidently plopped my own story down in the blank space that succeeded the sixties. The dimly lit room was plastered with rhythmic, postmodern poetry. Kerouac’s mellow-cello voice could be heard narrating ‘an evening in the beatnik life’ video that played for an audience of one, cross-legged Chinese boy not ten years old. Confusing deconstructionist paintings (that I admittedly hated) hung as an ode to insanity and irrationality. Figures lacked form to inform the norm of the golden morn yet to adorn the savage reborn.
The crème-de-la-crème, however, was the centerpiece of the exhibit. All 120 feet of Kerouac’s original On The Road scroll was stretched out in a glass case. At its boot was a crude map that Kerouac drew 60 years ago of the hitchhiking journey that birthed his most famous work. As I looked down at that map, I compared our routes and experiences. I felt more connected to my favorite dirty drunk drifter than ever before. Buddha Jack breathed a bumbling beat to me in his regular bohemian fashion. He whispered, “The empty sky is a foreign country. All of life is my witness,” and I whispered back, “I harvest my dreams from the field of stars. You taught me how.”

1947-48 drawing by Kerouac that shows his hitchhiking route

white circle

By 2016, Europe 3 Comments

In The Vatican, I was herded from one room to the next amongst the droves of tourists. I felt like a cow being led to my slaughter. The paintings themselves reflected the chaos as scenes of war, heaven, hell, and history were packed full with the characters of stories and legends. It was in this atmosphere of chaos that I found one piece that stood out and amazed me beyond understanding and expectation. It was one of those contemporary pieces that many, including myself, struggle to understand the reason for their place in the halls of fame; one that many may deem to be too simple to be beautiful. A black canvas with an imperfect thin, white circle stood amongst the likes of Chagall, Dali, and Picasso. For the first time, I was able to draw incredible meaning from an abstract piece that I would otherwise struggle to understand. It was exactly its imperfection and simplicity that captivated me. My original thoughts were simple, mere observations. White on black. White circle and perfection. Then I thought of the imperfection of the white circle and my thoughts grew deeper. Is this representation of purity more true to the reality of purity; something that is less than the expectation? I began to compare my understanding of its commentary on purity to its place in the Vatican. My thoughts spiralled out of control and sent me into a trance that will forever exist in eternity. Certainly my writing cannot explain my trance, but there was a theme of humanity’s attempt to contain what can’t be contained. The space inside the circle was just the same as that outside of it. This piece (of which I don’t know the name or artist, nor care to know for it may pollute my perception) changed me. It was the first time that my mind feasted on something so annoyingly abstract and it was delicious.

The Ocean

By 2015, All Things Travel, Asia No Comments

From the road that I stood on, I could see the ocean. With sweat beading on my forehead and rolling into my eyes, nothing could have stopped me from making the trek toward that break. I stepped off of the pavement and onto the faded dirt path that entered into the foliage. It zigzagged, mimicking the river that flowed to my right. I stepped over a decaying tree and took a sharp turn to my left where a skinny cow blocked my way. Shocked by the beast, I froze. Then I laughed. I scooted around her and found my way again. Ducking, dodging, weaving, walking. Sweat was pouring down my face at this point and my shirt was getting darker. I watched every step as I was wary of snakes (my greatest nemesis). The forest was thick with palm branches and bamboo shoots. The healthy dark green leaves were masked by shadows as the 2 o’clock sun shone from above.  A vine caught my foot and I stumbled, but only for a second. I felt embarrassed but I don’t know why.

I heard the ocean now. The waves crashing beckoned me toward them. The river’s current was growing stronger. Its banks had been a dark, rich brown and their solidity was maintained by the roots of the trees. Now the structured walls lost their form and turned to sand. I followed the now sandy path along a gradual bend to the left. Around the corner it emerged in all its vastness and glory. Rolling waves thundered when they hit the packed wet sandy shore.

I picked up my pace until I was running. I kicked off my shoes and waded through the knee high river that was now emptying into the ocean. On the other side I stripped down to my boxers, stumbling over my pants and throwing away my shirt. I ran in up to my waist and then dove into the first wave that hit me! Oh it was refreshing! I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect temperature. It was cold but not shocking, just enough to rejuvenate me instantly. The salt tasted like freedom. I was smiling ear to ear and let the ocean pull me out just a little. I lay on my back and felt the life of the ocean through my whole body. It heals. The ocean heals everything. It heals physical, mental, and spiritual injuries. I could feel it healing me. Healing my cuts. Healing my stress. Healing my longing for God.

I rode a wave to the shore and let it wash me up. I laid there for a moment, letting the waves that followed massage my legs. Finally I stood up and took four steps forward and sat down to study its ways. It’s simple. In that moment nothing mattered. Everything made sense. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in through my nose. The salty air gave me life. I wanted more. I kept breathing with my eyes closed. In through the nose. Out through the nose. In. Out. In. Out. I opened my eyes and looked out across the empty space that stretched to the horizon.

A Colombian Awakening

By 2014 - Colombia No Comments

I was excited for this trip to Colombia because it was a great opportunity to return to a country that is close to my heart and the heart of my family. I knew about the culture, the smells, the sights and these were the driving force behind any effort that I put into fundraising or research. Looking back on the past two weeks, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the richness of this experience has exceeded any expectation that I had for what this trip held for me.

Early on, we received a brief overview of the history of the conflict here between the military, guerilla armies and the paramilitaries. This brief overview gave us a framework and timeline to place in our minds the stories that we would hear from across the country. One of these stories is that of Narcico.

Narcico was targeted by the paramilitary 5 years ago. They broke into his house at 7pm and fired three shots. The last of them went through his mouth and out his neck. His wife cried for help but no one came. With only the clothes on their backs, they and their 5 year old granddaughter fled the farm. With an incredible amount of prayer, Narcico survived. Even with nothing to his name and no land to call his own, he was able to contact an acquaintance in the city of Sincelejo in the district of Sucre. The church of this man helped Narcico to survive and become healthy. In his broken state, he longed for purpose and told us that he felt entrapped by his helplessness.

The department of Sucre has been a dramatic area of the Colombian conflict. The conflict was over the good land so the farmers were abused and displaced. Uribre, the former Colombian president, ended the official conflict in the region but the aftermath is still filled with violence. Narcico was given the opportunity to farm a plot of land that had been deforested for cattle grazing. As a result, it was viewed as undesirable land. It had been mistreated. Narcico made it his goal to do for the land what God had done for him. He started to rejuvenate the farm through “Farming God’s Way,” which I found inspiring. He planted fruit trees and gardens, there where livestock walk around freely, and by the way he talked about the land, it was clear that he cared about it deeply.

I was raised in the city and don’t know the first thing about farming. However, I have always had a love and a close connection with nature. While we walked through the land that Narcico has helped come back to life, I had an awakening to the reality that this non-industrial, non-commercial partnership that Narcico had with the land that God had blessed him with was the most respectable lifestyle that I had ever witnessed. This walk came at a time in my life when every seemingly important question revolves around my “calling” or my “purpose”. As I’ve looked at the lifestyles of those around me, those I respect, I can’t help but see a rebukable sense of ownership over the land and the materials that we claim from it. Walking with Narcico was incredibly reassuring to the effect that I couldn’t find a lie that he was working to prove as truth. His purpose made sense through his suffering.

The inspiration that came from Narcico’s life was inspiring as were the many other stories that we heard along our journey. When people now ask me how fun Colombia was, or to tell them all about it, its staggering to just talk about the sights and the smells, how the food was, or how bad my sunburn is (although that’s a fair topic). I came back with a longing to change our sense of purpose and am so thankful to have met some people and organizations that are building peace through peace.

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