An extraordinary, unexpected e-mail from David K. Leff , a non-fiction writer, poet, and conservationist, led me to invite him to join this forum immediately as a guest blogger; his first contribution follows. David wrote to tell me he's the author of a 2009 book called – to my astonishment – Deep Travel: In Thoreau's Wake on the Concord and the Merrimack (University of Iowa Press). While we were writing we were each unaware of what the other was up to; and we've never collaborated in the past. Since hearing from David, I've read his book, and it's terrific.

Waiting for David's first post to arrive, I did some preliminary research on "multiple discovery," which turns out to be a well-known phenomenon in science. Here, for instance, are some of Malcolm Gladwell's comments on the subject (taken from "In the Air," a 2008 New Yorker essay):

A hundred and forty-eight major scientific discoveries fit the multiple pattern. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians "invented" decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier.... There seem to have been at least six different inventors of the thermometer and no less than nine claimants of the invention of the telescope. Typewriting machines were invented simultaneously in England and in America.

Sir Peter Medawar, co-winner of the 1960 Nobel Prize for Medicine, refused to be impressed by multiple discovery and considered it almost inevitable. As he put it in a 1964 New Statesman essay, "Simultaneous discovery is utterly commonplace, and it was only the rarity of scientists, not the inherent improbability of the phenomenon, that made it remarkable in the past. Scientists on the same road may be expected to arrive at the same destination, often not far apart."

While neither David nor I is ready to put Deep Travel up there with the discovery of oxygen or even calculus, we remain somewhat awed by how our independently arrived-at points of view not only converged but even led us to coin the same phrase. We met in New York for lunch recently (David lives in Connecticut), and simultaneously reached several new conclusions, among them that we'd like to pool forces in the future and think about setting up a small Deep Travel research institute. It was also, of course, enormously reassuring for each of us to find out – in retrospect – that while we were separately working on In Motion and Deep Travel, someone else was already out there thinking along the same lines.

Since Deep Travel (the phenomenon as well as the name) had presented itself to both of us as a subject whose richness and many dimensions demanded further exploration, here, it seemed to us, was one more demonstration that this powerful capacity is built-in rather than acquired, a part of everyone's basic mental equipment. Now that there are two how-to books on Deep Travel in print (when as recently as two years ago there were none), we take this as a promising sign that we're both talking about a subject the world wants to hear more about and get good at.

For more information about how to order Deep Travel and David's other books, please visit his Web site:


BOOKS SEPARATED AT BIRTH?: A Double Helping of Deep Travel Lessons

A guest blog by David K. Leff

As readers of this site are coming to realize, whether you travel near or far, you'll have a better time and get more from each moment if you travel deep. But before you pack your bags, you might want to turn pages in two books that will enhance a journey anywhere.

Tony's In Motion: The Experience of Travel (Knopf, 2010) traces the literary antecedents, philosophical underpinnings, and analytical reach of the deep travel concept. My book, Deep Travel: In Thoreau's Wake on the Concord and Merrimack (University of Iowa Press, 2009), takes readers deep traveling through a landscape at once mundane and extraordinary, advocating for and demonstrating the practice of deep travel. Read in tandem, these volumes provide tools enabling a mere visitor to become an explorer who finds meaning in ordinary objects and phenomena that once passed as mere background.

Tony and I met about seven years ago in a Connecticut National Guard helicopter flying low over a portion of an abandoned rail line destined to become part of the East Coast Greenway. He was working on a magazine article and I was Deputy Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection with a keen interest in the possibilities of connected open spaces. I still remember clearly the exhilarating but noisy, teeth rattling flight.

Animated by having just seen the rural landscape laid out below us like a map, lunch found us discussing how people experienced the countryside differently depending on where they lived and how they got from one place to another. The greenway, we agreed, would make connections between people and places. It would enhance residents' appreciation for their home ground by encouraging them to move more slowly and see more. Neither of us mentioned deep travel. It was a concept still gestating.

Not until Tony's book was published did our paths cross again. Reading a review of In Motion, I was astounded at the kinship of thought after the lapse of so much time. Perhaps there were some synergies in our chat all those years ago that sent us down the same trail as surely as if it was that old railroad bed. Regardless, we have arrived at largely the same place, though from very different directions. Now we find ourselves in partnership espousing a means for enriching some of life's most valued as well as ordinary hours.

Any worthwhile trip may be costly in money, effort and time. Awareness of the nature and techniques of deep travel will ensure the investment is well rewarded and will long pay dividends. Deep travel doesn't tell you where to go, what sites to tour, or where to shop. It is simply about being more aware. So choose your destination, load the car or reserve your flight. And if you want the most from your experience, you might decide to read a couple books about deep travel.