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’m in bed under a down comforter and flannel sheets, surrounded by small windows and a lace curtain, in a ’75 Shasta camper where I have lived for the past four months.
I get up and put the needle down on my portable record player. 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. I am surrounded by all of my treasures. Such luxury, I think. I light a candle and arrange my notebooks and scraps of paper into a pile next to the record player. Such fleeting luxury.
Time has a funny way of slowing down when you are always on the move.
I started traveling three years ago, although 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. But last spring I decided to go to a place where I hadn’t been for quite some time: home.
I am from a small town on the coast of Maine where the ocean is always cold. The seasons are harsh, winter lasts nearly six months, spring (what little exists of it) is fondly referred to as mud season, and summer is a dreamy haze of long humid days, fireflies and phosphorescence. It was May when I went back, before the leaves had come out and the grass was only starting to show signs of life. It had been a hard winter in the Northeast, and spring seemed reluctant to arrive.
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 will 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 had parked at the end of a dirt road under a stand of poplar trees. I unpacked things I had often dreamt about when I was on the road, and some things I had forgotten about, 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 cool and foggy day, I swam in the 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 landscapes. 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 to swim in granite quarries and drove 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. In July I ate as many wild blueberries as I could, and blackberries in August. Every day I walked through the woods, and every day I swam. I fell asleep listening to bull frogs and night birds and woke to crows picking through the compost pile. I was a wild person in a wild place, letting myself feel just the way I wanted to feel and finally, I felt like I was home.
I was a wild person in a wild place, letting myself feel just the way I wanted to feel and finally, I 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 a feeling — of a memory of myself.
I sat on a ferry heading out to my favorite island on one of the last hot days of summer, trying to take in the scene: glowing white granite emerging from the dark ocean, golden brown rock weed shimmering as the tide pushed in. The sweet and sad time when everything is ripe and everything is dying, and I didn’t hold my breath. I didn’t feel the familiar tightening in my chest, I didn’t hear the voice in my head telling me to pack a bag before it’s too late.
And now summer is over. I turn the record over, the rain hasn’t stopped and I’m glad because it’s been too dry.
This year I will stay put for a while, the apples are ripe and soon the smell of wood smoke and rotting leaves will fill the crisp days of fall.
I am ready for a new kind of adventure, I’m ready to stay home.
Photos by Anna Leigh Flynn