“I decided to go to a place where I hadn’t wanted to be for quite some time — I decided to go home…”
This post comes from our new fp contributor, Anna! Check back each month for more stories from the road.
I wake to rain tapping on the roof. It is still dark and as the rain persists it gets so loud I feel like I am in a tin can drifting out to sea. I am in bed under a down comforter and flannel sheets, surrounded by small windows and a lace curtain, in a 1975 Shasta camper where I have lived for the past four months.
I get up even though I am still tired, and I have no reason to, other than I like to be awake in the early hours of the day, and I think it will be nice to walk in the rain in a little while to look for mushrooms. I put the needle down on the tiny record player that sits on my table. I sit, listening to quiet music and loud rain, surrounded by my books and cameras, my old jackets hanging on the wall, my shoes under the bed, surrounded by all of my treasures. Such luxury, I think, lighting a candle and arranging my notebooks and scraps of paper into a pile next to the record player, such fleeting luxury.
I started traveling two years ago, though it feels like much longer. Time has a funny way of slowing down when you are always on the move. I’ve gone back and forth across the country many times, to the South Pacific, Mexico and South America, and then this past spring I decided to go to a place where I hadn’t wanted to be for quite some time: I decided to go home.
I am from a small town on the coast of Maine, on the western side of Penobscot Bay, where the ocean is always cold and the woods, in places, are still dark and wild. The seasons are harsh here, winter lasts nearly six months and spring, what little exists of it, is fondly referred to as “mud season”. But summertime in Maine is something of a dream. Long, hot days, thunderstorms at night, fireflies in the hay fields and phosphorescence in the ocean.
It was May when I arrived, the leaves had not come out yet, and the grass was only starting to come back to life. It had been a hard winter in the Northeast, and spring seemed reluctant to come. When I saw the shadbush flowering for the first time, Amelanchier, delicate white flowers against dark foliage, I pulled over onto the side of the road, holding my breath. This is the way summer has always felt to me: a moment so fleeting that, if I don’t pull the car over, if I don’t actually pause, I might never notice it’s happening until it’s too late.
Coming home after traveling is still something of a mystery to me. I have heard that once one begins to travel, they return home a different person, that they never go all the way back. I knew I had changed, I knew that travel had taught me, if nothing else, to be adaptable, but I hadn’t realized just what that meant until I went home. I bought a car almost the same age as myself, and moved into an old camper that a friend of a friend had parked at the end of a dirt road, tucked away in a grove of ash, just a short walk through the woods to a little pond covered in lily pads. I unpacked many things I had dreamed about when I was on the road, and things I had forgotten I owned, and for the first time in a long time, I slept in a bed that was mine, knowing I would sleep in it again the next night.
On the summer solstice, a damp and foggy day, I swam in the freezing cold ocean, and decided I would swim again the next day, and every day of the summer after that. Without realizing it, I began to explore my old home the way I would any new place. Travel had given me not only adaptability, but a new sense of curiosity, a longing to know the unknown landscape. I went to as many islands as I could, eagerly awaiting the early morning ferry rides across the bay. I took any chance I could get to swim in granite quarries and drive down long dirt roads. And in this way, as if for the first time, I fell in love with Maine. I fell in love with the rocky coast, the smell of juniper and bay. Every day I swam, falling in love with the feeling of being under water. In July I ate as many wild blueberries as I could, small and sweet, warm from the sun. I anxiously watched the blackberries ripen in August, got tangled in thorns with deerflies swarming around my head, gorging myself until my fingers were stained dark purple and I did not want any more. Every day I walked through the woods, collecting animal bones and feathers that I brought back to my camper by the pond. I fell asleep listening to bull frogs and night birds and woke to crows picking through the compost pile. I let myself feel just the way I wanted to feel, a wild person in a wild place, and I finally felt like I was home.
Letting myself settle down, unpack and spread out, required letting go of many things I had learned on the road. I have been traveling because the idea of destination is unsettling to me, and I have found great comfort in knowing that when my bags are packed, I can always leave and go somewhere new. But I have been tired of living in this way, I have been tired of the idea that I may be running from something. In my travels I have unexpectedly found myself idealizing my hometown, I have found myself looking for places that remind me of a certain time or feeling—of a memory of happiness. Go home then, a voice inside my head had been telling me, travel is a state of mind. And now, I’m finally starting to believe it.
On a ferry boat through the Fox Island thoroughfare, on one of the last hot days of summer, I leaned against the railing to take in the scene: enormous glowing white granite emerging from the dark blue ocean, rock weed shimmering as the tide pushed in. The end of summer was growing near, the sweet and sad time when everything is ripe and everything is dying. I have to leave soon, said a familiar voice inside my head, though I had to question why. Do I need to keep traveling? Haven’t I moved around enough? Two men sat behind me, and I listened while they talked.
“Can I tell you how good it feels,” one man said to the other “to be chopping wood in August, thinking about a girl in a red dress?”
I shut my eyes, and thought for a moment about winter already on its way, a wood stove burning through the night. I tasted the salt in the air, listened to the sea gulls crying overhead. Go then, the ferry boat slowed as we entered the harbor filled with lobster boats swaying gently. Don’t just think about what is, or isn’t out there, go see for yourself. I thought about that dress, a girl in a red dress.
It is time to travel. And as I listen to myself I am starting to believe, I will always know the way home.