going to Georgia, coming home

Driving home from Georgia on Friday, we listened to my “wanderlust” cd - a mix of songs I made a decade ago when I was writing my senior thesis on the idea of the open road in American pop culture in the 1950s-60s. I guess I still empathize with that idea that freedom is in getting out and going - but I don’t dream of it in the same way.  In highschool, I used to daydream about being a truck driver - yes, a truck driver - because then I could see the country, clear my mind, and listen to my own cassettes.  My life plan at eighteen included a year spent touring the country in a VW van, and another year backpacking across Europe.  I managed to do shortened versions of those trips in my twenties. Backpacking in Europe was the freest I’ve ever felt.

But it could never be that way again.  Now, when I travel, I’m never footloose and fancy free. At least part of me is always thinking about my home and my children and my responsibilities. At least part of me is always ready to go home.

The first place we visited in Georgia was Ed's Lake Rd, where Jack’s grandparents live.  It’s this kind of magical place, hidden back in a tangle of woods, and named for Jack’s great-grandfather.  That makes us the fifth generation to be there, and even after so many years, it’s quiet and isolated. Jack’s grandparents keep bees and have Fox News on high volume all day. His great aunt Mary Alice collects local antiques and plays the harmonica. She baited the fishing lines for Rosie down at the dock behind her house, and the fish practically jumped out of the water to our poles.

How many years have they lived there?  We brought one of their extra hives back for bees on our land, too, and I wondered how long this new house will be ours.

Jack’s parents have lived in their home in Macon, where we went next, for about seventeen years. The house was newly built when they moved in, and they said the yard felt like it needed trees.  Now, the house is surrounded trees so that when you sit on the back porch and look out, you think you’re in a small clearing in the middle of a forest.  Our acres in Indiana are more field than forest, but I wonder - will we be here for seventeen years?  Will we grow a forest, too?

In Macon, we did the things we do; with seven cousins six and under, that means mostly that we eat and play, but we also visited a peach orchard and the Georgia Aquarium.

Rosie wanted to have a princess party.  When she didn't smile for the pictures, I asked why. She said she was not supposed to smile: she was supposed to look regal. This is her most regal look:

You can see how excited Jack was about taking care of the boys during the princess party.

Sometimes it makes me sad - this sense that my wanderlust has quieted, that my possessions have weighed me down. My life had been rippling out and out: to Memphis and Austin and Gulf Shores, to Nashville and Mankato and Chicago, to Scotland and Paris and Haiti, to Italy and Vietnam and Cambodia, to LA and Seattle and now, Indiana. The ripples have stopped, the stone has sunken into the riverbed here. I’d still go, if I could, if I could still capture that feeling of freedom, but I know I can’t. Without becoming narrow-minded - I still want to keep the wide world in my mind, to settle in to this specific place without losing awareness of the beautiful variety of cultures and perspectives out there, without forgetting that though I am living comfortably, many people in the world are not - Now is the time for staying, for abiding, for following Wendell Berry’s instructions and knowing my place.

Now is the time for learning the name of every plant on our property, for walking it enough that I know just where the ground slopes, for growing the slow compost that will soften this clay into garden soil.

I was anxious to get back to our house (still so many things to do here before we are settled in!). But I was also surprisingly ready to get back to Indiana. I remember the first time we left Indiana after moving here.  We started driving south for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and as soon as we hit southern Indiana, a spot that was a bit hilly, I almost gasped with relief, like I’d been underwater until then, like the flat cornfields for miles and miles had been starving my soul.  I hadn’t even realized until that moment how much I’d missed the Olympic range, the Ozarks, the Rockies. But I had.

But Friday when we drove up through Indiana, cornfields on one side, soybeans on the other, the sky enormous above us, I felt peace settle in my soul, like I could breathe easy again. On 1000, the orange daylilies had faded, and something yellow bloomed with them that hadn’t been there when we left. The sunset glowed like cotton candy across our driveway, and on the back porch, its light hit my neighbor’s barn and soybean fields in just the way the sunset used to hit Twin Sisters when I stood on the back porch of the lodge in Estes Park. The hayfield next door, recently baled, called to mind a spot in the Ozarks where once, hiking by myself, I heard the voice of the lord in a frog’s mysterious croak. Inside the house, the saints of California gazed down on our suitcases and the girls in ao dai rode their bikes ceaselessly through the living room. We unloaded the bee hives we brought from Ed’s Lake Road and watched an episode of Veronica Mars with my brother.

Every place I've been is still with me now, and I'm home.