Beating a different kind of homesick

Be It Ever So Humble

What if truth is a woman? Nietzsche penned that, but I wish I had.

I’m in my new apartment, an embarrassing number of boxes piled around me, lying on the floor in a sleeping bag, not yet ready to commit. In my mind, I’m in the Washington woods some days ago, sitting by a fire with two pit bulls and Terry, a retired lumberjack with a salt and pepper prospector’s beard and husky blue eyes, who is telling us he has no home.

“Write an adventure column to inspire me,” she says, casually mistaking the direction of inspiration in our friendship. So I have, and now it’s nearly done, though I’m still skirting around a truth I’d like to share with her, this woman who might be a metaphor.

What’s the nature of home? Around that friendly fire, Terry tells us how he loves the woods, takes solace in solitude, spent the last 30 years in Houston, Alaska with trees and dogs and space without end.

“And the kid,” he tells us, “whiled the days in a hammock amidst those trees.”

But his arthritis and the bitter cold has recently forced him south. His retirement check is two months late, and the friend he was to stay with is a heroin addict. He left as soon as he arrived and took shelter in the woods he knew so well. He still had the warmth of his dogs, a daily fire and an unshakable belief that all will be well.

Then there’s Isaiah. Isaiah popped out of a different forest as I was taking down my own tent and said hi. We’d unknowingly slept 30 feet away from him, and he heard us talking the night before — we only heard ambling deer.

“There’s my house,” he says, and points into the bush.

I look and, at first, see nothing. My eyes refocus; I see a suspended tarp and incredulously look back at the cleanly dressed individual who’d just called it a house. He doesn’t blink. He tells me he’s lived there for 15 years, hikes out to the city for work, is proud of what he has. I tell him I heard loud snoring in a different part of the woods the night before, and he says he suspects there’s another old man who lives there, though he’s never seen him come or go. We share a smile about how the woods are the new suburbs, and I get on my way.

There’s Super Dave and his dog, Jasper, forever wandering the west in search of sunshine, and Michelle, a cyclist headed to Mexico in pursuit of the perfect taco. There’s Marcus on his way to Tierra del Fuego, but leisurely, as a lifestyle, and Dan, already planning another trip. And, of course, there’s restless, wanderlusting me.

“If I could be any animal,” Dan said once, tucking into his tent for the night, “I’d be a turtle, with my home always on my back.”

And so it is with all of us. We move because we’re happiest moving. Our homes are in our minds, among our friends.

Currently, my home is a jumble of thoughts regarding happiness and tents and dogs and fires and that unbelievable feeling of freedom when the wind is in my hair. I’m still skirting around truth, not yet ready to roll up my sleeping bag, back though not all here. But this much I know: A few nights ago we returned to Champaign by train, reassembled our bikes, put our panniers on at the station for the last time and rode to our new apartment.

She calls, this muse of mine, and says, “You better be hungry!” We head to her place, her home, walk up a flight of stairs, and there she is, this metaphor, very much a woman. She wears a ribbon in her hair and a smile from here to there. She’s baked me a cake for my birthday. She hugs me, and I wish for time to stop. Momentarily, my restlessness subsides.

With love and squalor,

Guy Tal