Some Thoughts About Coming Home, Being Home, and Leaving Home
03/25/2010 45 °F
[*]Of late, I’ve been on a connect the dots tour across the Midwest visiting friends and family. March, in the Midwest, isn’t very attractive. The snow is melting, and the ugly brown carpet of earth isn’t very pretty. Everything is brown, drab, sun dried, and flat. It’ll be a few weeks before grasses poke through, and spring really begins. So I’m making the best of it by seeing my family, and dropping by old friends for a few days, before I drive up to Alaska in early April.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Michigan. Specifically, the Keweenaw Peninsula where I grew up. I still have a lot of family in the area, and I wanted to stay for a couple weeks, to recharge, to refinance (aka filing my taxes) and to reconnect with the region that I once called home.
Home. Home is a place that has a variety of meanings. It could be where you came from, it could be where you currently live. It could be where your heart is. It might be a fancy place to store material goods. To most, it’s a foundation of their life. A place where you start and end your day; your home base, your castle, your fortress of solitude, your sanctuary. A place you can let your guard down, relax and recharge your batteries. For most people, this might be at least a partially fitting description. For me, home is a bit different.
I don’t have a physical home to call my own. I have connections to places where I once lived in Michigan and Minnesota, but no location to settle each night. My visits to my old homes are now infrequent. I’ll get home to Michigan about 4 times a year. My favorite time is Thanksgiving. That’s when most of my family makes the effort to get together, and it’s good to see everyone at the Hancock Miller’s Thanksgiving Extravaganza. Through much of the year, I don’t have a fixed residence I stay at, certainly there is no place I stay longer than 5 months. Last year, I spent 5 months traveling, 5 months in Alaska and 2 months in Duluth, Mn.
“You can never go home again.” Somebody said it, and it’s true. Fortunately, the cold hard reality of this is only learned once. For me, it was after I moved away from my childhood home in Michigan, and returned several months later on my first visit. It wasn’t the same place I grew up, it was the same in a physical sense, but something inside me had reached a turning point, and I knew I could never go back to my childhood places, thoughts, and feelings again. I think it happens to everyone, part of growing up, part of life. As I grew older and returned periodically, I realized that there is still a part of me that considers this part of the world “home.” Mostly this feeling occurs when I out strolling through the back 90 acres of our family farm. I feel a connection to the land, a pride in it, a feeling that this tiny piece of earth has made me who I am.
I grew up on a 93 acre farm located in a river valley 5 miles from the nearest town. It’s located in the middle of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the finger of land that juts up into Lake Superior. Our land is a mix of hardwood forests, pastures, and occasional pine groves of spruce, red pine, and balsam. It’s a good piece of land, though we never farmed it. There are over a 100 natural apple trees that produce delicious apples every fall. There is a blueberry patch, a black berry patch, wild strawberries and morel mushrooms. The water is excellent to drink, no additives necessary. About a quarter mile away is a nice little trout stream, that I spent many summer days plying the waters with hundreds of worms hoping to entice a trout. Deer have made a strong hold in our woods. Their trails criss cross throughout the woods. When taking a walk, it‘s a common sight to see the deer bounding and leaping away, their bright white tails fully erect signaling danger. This was an idyllic land for a kid to call home. As I didn’t have many friends that lived near me, and my older brother and cousins only occasionally allowed me to tag along, I often spent a lot of time alone, wandering through the woods and exploring the valley. At the time, most of the surrounding farms were owned by relatives or indifferent land owners who didn’t care if you crossed their land. So in essence I had miles and miles of territory to explore. I loved being outside, a condition I still am happily afflicted with. In many ways, my childhood has affected my current penchant for travel and seeing new places.
Roughly 16 miles away from the farm, in the sleepy village of Eagle River, our family owns a small vacation home. Locally, these are called “camps.” In Minnesota, they are called “cabins“, in the north east they are called “cottages.” No matter what you call it, they all have the same result: a place to go on weekends, and in the summer, to relax, swim, and take it easy. Our camp has been in the family since the late 1800’s, so this place has a deep familiarity and meaning for me: These are my roots. The cottage is located near the banks of the Eagle River for which the town takes its named, A gorgeous set of waterfalls tumbles down the ledge rock on its way to Lake Superior about 100 yards away from the camp. In early spring, when the river is swollen from melting snow, the falls roar can be heard from my bedroom; a soothing lullaby. There is a deep swimming hole at the bend in the river, a good spot to go when the lake is too cold. My ancestors chose wisely when considering a homestead.
Three blocks away, and down a fairly steep hill, is Lake Superior, the largest of the great lakes. It’s crystal clear, cold refreshing water has been a part of my life since I was born. Walking its rugged shore line and occasional sand beaches has always been a soothing balm. I love swimming in it, though it can only be comfortably done from roughly late June to early September. I love watching storms over the lake, especially the lighting forks cutting the night sky. I like watching the large waves fueled by northwest winds pummel the shore, while the wind whips up the beach sand. There are nights when the wind is warm and sultry. Sometimes on these warm nights, you can see the northern lights when they dance their eerie salute to the northland.
This week, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Eagle River. I won’t see it again until mid October, and I want to take advantage of the time I have. There is a lot of work to be done around the camp, and I don’t mind taking on some spring chores while I‘m here. While I work, I’ve had a lot of time to think. While doing boring household chores, my mind wander around, and sometimes, my thoughts turn introspectively.
I don’t live a conventional life where I take a 2 week holiday from work and head out to some distant locale. Instead, I run on an opposite schedule, where I’ll spend 2 weeks at home a year. For much of the rest of the year, I’ll either be on the road or working in some distant locale. Like anything, long term travel has its pros and cons. Evaluating them, and deciding what kind of life I want to live isn’t easy. Sacrifices I make to travel might mean you don’t have the comforts of a physical home. Having a home is fundamental part of life, yet I wouldn’t give my travel experiences up for anything. It can be a mental tug of war.
I have mixed feelings about coming home. Naturally, I like visiting my family, friends, and visiting my old haunts. Part of me knows that I can’t get too comfortable, because the next trip is coming up. I usually time my visits just after one trip and before the next one starts. It gives me a chance to reflect on the last journey and prepare for the next.
I’m not the same when I’m home, I tend to be more lethargic, more content to take it easy and relax. Part of this might be travel fatigue. Everyone gets tired from time to time, and I’m no different. I eat more, my mom makes sure I’m well fed, and it’s impossible to refuse. It’s kind of like Christmas. I think the lethargy gets to me, because when I leave and get back to life on the road, I feel refreshed and glad to be back in the saddle.
I’m departing tomorrow morning. I’m driving south into central Wisconsin to visit a friend and some more family. Then I’m off to Duluth, and up into the North Shore region of Minnesota for a couple days before I turn the van west and begin my next Alaskan journey. For now, I’m going to make the best of my last couple hours here in Michigan, because it won’t be long before I’ll be on that road once again.
“Not all wanderers are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien