Traveling Home


Consider Emily Dickinson, who rarely left her house and yet traveled so extensively inside of it that critics are still retracing her footsteps.  – Suzanne Bern from “Traveling Close, Very Close, to Home” c. 1993, NYT

Traveling Home

In August, 2014 I’ll turn 65 and begin following a year-long travel map with 12 destinations in Oregon and Washington, spoking out from those to get to 65 places I haven’t been. I hope to travel an average of one to two weeks each month, to camp along rivers, to meet people along the way, to find out what is home to them and what they do to work on behalf of those places, to visit wildlife preserves and old train tracks turned bike trails.  During the year, I’ll post several essays here under “field notes.”

My childhood was a practice in traveling home.  This involved circling the big spruce in my back yard probing bare soil with a kitchen spoon or as companion to my father on sales trips.  My father loved two things to the distraction and near-elimination of all others – fishing and sales. This telegraphed an odd message of the wild and commerce to a five-year-old. I absorbed the idea that when you traveled, you worked or sat by a body of water whether you wore a suit and polished wingtips or tennis shoes.  This has served me well.  I always have a journal with me, and I know where to find the nearest stream.  You don’t have to be on vacation to stop by a river.

Why do I travel?  Why do I crawl into my car to sleep under the familiar moon and the view out my window of the spokes on my bike hanging from the rack?   I travel to escape.  I travel because I’m curious.  I travel to be less certain about my own assumptions.  I travel to solve problems. I travel to think without interruption.  I travel to be in awe of mountains, of streams and rivers, of people.  I travel to think differently about what haunts me.  I travel to learn to be alone.  I travel to unfold my camp chair and wonder on paper about what is around me. I travel to see the birds in a new place.   I travel for the same reason I write – to be open to surprise, to welcome the unplanned, to wonder about the particulars.

I travel in response to the welcome stories that rose to the surface when I asked for destination suggestions from friends and family: stories of sitting in caves watching the ocean, of falling in love, of getting lost, of being found, of paddling in rough currents, of being at the endpoint of land and being able to stretch over water, of being buffeted by winds and eating in all-night diners, of seeing a certain shade of red in the mountains and an expanse of silver sky in the black night of eastern Oregon, of unknown trails and vistas close to home.

The journalist Jonah Lehrer says   “….our thoughts are shackled by the familiar.”  I travel to break the shackles.