The other night at dinner my mom quoted one of our favorite children’s books about a group of pigs who break into the farmers house when the farmer is are out and unleash mayhem as they explore and enjoy another world. But when they have had their fun they are happy to return to their pig sty, stating, “Although it has been fun to roam it feels good to be back home.” That really got me thinking because to anyone else that may seem like a “no duh” statement, but to me…
I had been living in Oaxaca, Mexico for about a week when some friends and I took our first trip out to the coast. We were gone for three days but I still sighed happily when we returned to Oaxaca and said instinctively, “Feels so good to be home.” Oaxaca is a great example of how quickly a place can become home for me. In college it was always weird to talk about going from home (Salem) to home (Olympia). When I was working in Arizona, Flagstaff quickly felt like my home but on project my tent was like my turtle shell, every time I set it up, no matter where I was, I was home. Kyle and I felt similarly on trail, although we continued moving, we could always count on our tent to be our shelter, our bug net, our shade, our home.
On top of that the trail began to feel like home, just the mere existence of something that connected our experience from beginning to end. Plus we had each other, you know what they say, home is where the heart is, and true to that statement I never felt homesick or lost on trail, I always felt found. But coming home, home to Olympia, home to my parents and my family, home to my house I grew up in, that is a feeling unparalleled by anything. Driving down Steamboat Island Rd at ten o’clock at night, after a twelve hour driving day, it felt as if we had never left, as if the whole AT was just a dream.
Everyone’s definition of home is so different. Even my brother’s differs from my own. Right before we got home my dad sent out a group text of a picture he had taken of the Washington State Capitol Building. He captioned it, “Excited to be home?” I responded immediately, overjoyed to see the Capitol Building all lit up. I remember, from childhood, when we would come home from holidays and trips up to Seattle the lit up dome of the Capitol Building was my sign, my signal that home was drawing near. But Nelson responded, “That’s not what I think of when I think of home…”
Isn’t that interesting? What really makes a place home for you? For me a place begins to give me this feeling when I return to it. This billowing feeling in the pit of my stomach, a sense of relief and excitement. A sad sweeping of nostalgia and memory. A comforting familiarity. I can’t help which places evoke this feeling in me and apparently I am a home whore because many places make me feel this way. The Willamette University library, seeing the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, the smell of salt water and low tide or even the Capitol Building.
Maybe my ability to feel at home is what makes me thick skinned when it comes to feeling homesick. I have seen people wrestle with homesickness and wondered what they are feeling. Clearly I’ve missed home, am happy to go back and be back, but I have seen the pain that people feel when they are homesick, how they are thinking about their home every second of the day, how they can’t fall asleep at night because it hurts so bad and how they wish, more then anything, they could go home. But I accept a place as home as quickly as I create a memory there. As a result I’m like a hermit crab, constantly carrying my home on my back, or in my heart, ready to welcome a new one at a moments notice.
Soon it will be time for Kyle and I to make another move, to another city, to new jobs and different lives. But as I get further and further away from my home on the Appalachian Trail I am experiencing something similar to homesickness, which is weird because the AT was the furthest thing from a comfortable, stable, steady home. It reminds me of a quote from an article I read recently about a couple who are part of the tiny house movement, “The world gets a lot bigger when you’re living small… The whole world is my living room.” That is truly a special feeling. For now I achieve that sensation again through day hikes and overnights but I hope to continue to strive for a comfort in this world that allows me to travel and be at home anywhere, as long as I’m in my own skin and with the people that I love. And so I would maybe amend the pigs quote to something like, As I continue to roam, I will find myself at home.