I was recently talking with my wonderful dissertation group, consisting of Kara McShane and Laura Bell, about traveling. Though we are all three writing about different texts (and Laura is writing about nineteenth-century literature, whereas Kara and I do medieval), all of us are dealing with travel in some way. We were thinking the other day about how frequently we answer distance questions with time. "How far is it to your apartment?" "About ten minutes." We very often measure length of distance with how long it will take to traverse it. We measure distance in minutes, in hours, in days. "A day's drive" can mean different things on different days and for different people, but we all understand that it means the limit of how far a person could travel on a given day. All of this got me thinking about the word "journey," which clearly has its origins in the French jour – day. A journey, then, is how far you could get in a day, the pre-modern equivalent of a day's drive. Before speedometers and gps systems and google maps, how would you tell someone how far to travel? How would you orient yourself on a trip? How would you negotiate between spaces?
The missions are interesting for my thoughts on distance as time because they represent a larger teleology, both of linear progress up the coast and of the colonization and conversion of the locals, and yet each point on the line of missions is of equal importance. It's not about making it to the northernmost or southernmost mission, but rather about the presence of missions along the whole length of the state. It is, to give into the inevitable cliche, about both journey and destination. Perhaps the answer is that there's a larger movement up the coast, but yet each mission also represents its own destination. The line is made up of individual journeys. And though we no longer ride horses to get from one spot to another (or, rather, I never have), we still think of movement across the state or country or world in terms of segments of travel.
as I have mentioned before, Custance travels for "years and days" in the Man of Law's Tale. We don't get specifics about time (how many years? how many days?) because neither time nor space nor the connection between them is clear on a rudderless voyage. Custance doesn't know how far she travels, how long she's at sea, or where she's heading. Her boat floats in all directions for some amount of time. Fate has a larger plan for her, as the Man of Law makes clear, but fate isn't quantifiable, and thus can't be productively measured in time or space. I guess, if you don't know where you're going, you really have no choice but to focus on the journey.