Going Home, Finding Home

May 3, 2015 in Canada, North America, Travelogue

Why yes, my mother did paint the island's welcome sign!

Why yes, my mother did paint the island’s welcome sign!

Today is a significant day.

It is the day that our family goes home. To a place, not a concept. Where we will stay. Mostly.

You read that right. Today is our last day of life on the road.

In late March, 2008, we took off from our little house in the woods of New Hampshire with a big idea and the dream of spending a year in the world with our kids. We thought we’d take a little bike ride, through Europe and the fringe of North Africa; maybe the western most ribbon of Asia, if we could make the money last.

The money didn’t last, incidentally. It disappeared completely just seven months later, when the markets crashed. We were camped on the highest sea cliff on the Adriatic coast of Italy that morning. It was unsettling. It was also a catalyst that caused us to rethink some things, reinvent our careers a bit, refocus our priorities and our attention on what we really wanted, to refit our lives, and our family, for a longer walk in the world. That collapse, in retrospect, was one of the best things to happen to us; it forced the creativity that has fueled seven years of full time travel with our children.

I had no concept, when we hugged our dearest and best goodbye and boarded that Virgin Atlantic flight for London, seven springs ago, that the road was unfurling like a sail before us and the wind that filled it would blow us across five continents and provide the lift needed to inspire our young people to their own paths. I had no idea whatsoever where we were really going. And yet, here we are.

This is the day we left our house for good… in our camper, 2008. Look how little the kids are! (We may have been insane!)

This is the day we left our house for good… in our camper, 2008. Look how little the kids are! (We may have been insane!)

I got luggage for my 18th birthday and my exit strategy was planned well before that milestone birthday.

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My parents casually asked, over burgers one evening… yes, I remember what I was eating… what I thought about attending university in the States the following year, instead of finishing out my 13th year of high school in Canada. I let them I know, in no uncertain terms, that I was not particularly interested. Unbeknownst to them, at that point, I had an apartment arranged with college aged friends and was planning on moving out, getting a job, finishing high school while living off the island and getting on with it. No dice. My mother, courageously, bundled my non-compliant self into the van the next week and we made a campus visit to Indiana. I was not impressed. I cried. I declared I would not go. Would not move to middle America. Would not take up residence in the middle of a corn field, and certainly not in a dormitory with hundreds of other kids. No thank you.

And so, I came to live in America.

I had no intention of staying. None whatsoever. Life is a funny thing, isn’t it? I stayed, for 15 years, no less, gave birth to four American citizens and exercised my own dual citizenship quite thoroughly.

I have not spent more than two weeks on the island, in Canada, in 23 years.

And yet, later today, I will stand on the deck of the ferry, take a deep breath and return home.

For good. Mostly. In my own way. I’m hoping Aaron is working on the boat this afternoon. I’m going to need a good, bracing, hug to step over that threshold, and he’s always got one for me. He was in my Kindergarten class; and every class thereafter.

Wolfe Island is a different kind of place.

It’s quiet, in a way that few places left in this world are. It’s closed, in the sense that there’s no road to it and the boat ride’s worth of separation makes a difference. The people there have been bulwarks in the middle of the St. Lawrence River for generations. Formidable folks, with deep roots, strong convictions and a mud-on-their-boots commitment to community that is awe inspiring. At the same time, they’re remarkably progressive: the island is home to the largest wind farm in Eastern Canada, and a significant number of artists and musicians (one of the best summer music festivals in Canada happens there every year.)

It took a couple of years of talking and thinking about whether I could move back. It’s an odd thing to leave a place as a child and then consider returning over twenty years later. How would that feel? What would it mean for my husband and kids? Did we want to snuggle down into the very different realities of island life after having blown, like tumbleweeds, across the planet?

It was my parents beginning to discuss selling their 70 acres of heaven that caused us to catch our breath. Heaven isn’t an exaggeration (in the summer). My Dad has spent the last 35 years or so making it into a park. He’s planted thousands of trees, a grape vineyard, fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb beds that are the harbingers of spring. They maintain extensive gardens, trails that he keeps mowed for hiking about, a marsh that he’s improved for ducks and maintains for boat access, and the log home we built the summer I was 13. We want to keep their life’s work in the family, for our kids, for my brother’s kids, for whatever other kids might present themselves in the family in the decades to come.

And so, we’re going home. Not because we have to, but because we deeply want to.

My folks lived near us in Guatemala this winter for three months.

It was a new sort of adventure, having them right around the corner. My Dad stopped by at least once a day. He brought me flowers. He came to talk to Tony. He came to check on the kids and see who wanted to take a hike. My mom turned up to play Scrabble in the afternoons. She brought chicken soup when we were all deathly ill. We ate meals together often. I crashed their party a couple of times a week to sip iced tea on the deck, check on Mom’s weaving progress, or just hide out from my hoard for a while. We took care of each other. It was nice. I haven’t had that in my adult life, ever. It was kind of a test flight for whether we could all live close together and still have fun. Results are in: we can. It was more than fun. It was great.

So, we’ve rented a cottage on the island for the summer, and we’re looking at the possibility of a house in the very near future. We’re officially, “dropping anchor,” as my grandmother would have said, and we’re doing it close enough that we can mow grass, help with gardening, and employ our fleet of teenage boys in the heavy lifting.

Of course, there is still plenty of travel in our futures: Hannah leaves Thursday for her little summer backpacking adventure across the midwest. I’ll be back and forth to the west coast a couple of times this summer. Hannah and I will add our sixth continent in July when we go, with my mother, to Peru for a couple of weeks way off the grid in the Amazon. And then there’s that hair-brained scheme to race rickshaws across India for charity next spring that The Man and I are quite committed to.

Settled, is relative.

But I did buy an appliance this week: A Vitamix blender. To me, that’s a commitment to life in one location. Mostly. And I got my teapot out of storage. As well as my wheat grinder. And my chef knives. Do you see a trend emerging? 😉

And so…

I find myself standing, like a child on the end of the high dive: toes curled over the edge, anticipating the plunge. Thinking that the drop seems much higher from the precipice than it did from below, while watching friends take the leap. Taking deep breaths, hoping not to have water rush up my nose and find myself coughing and regretting the jump when I come up for air. Knowing that the drop is going to be exhilarating. Hoping hard that I don’t dislocate my tailbone… again. Preparing myself for the cold splash. Getting ready to swim hard. Deep breath…. count to three…