I still know the rhythms of these mountains. I recognize the passage of the sun, the different places where light falls throughout the day—how it bursts directly through my window at dawn, how in the early morning, the back porch is best, the light is clear as the sun rises behind quivering fir trees. Around 10:30 it comes through the windows at an awkward angle and glares against my computer screen. From noon until late afternoon, warmth beats down overhead whenever I step outside, filtering through certain trees that are either bare or dressed with crisp orange leaves. Early evening the sun falls behind a hill but still illuminates the world, though the heat of the day dissipates. And then the best sunset spots, of course. I’ve never been here in October, but the hummingbirds still come to the feeder in the morning, the bright stars circulate overhead, the big dipper scoops the neighbor’s chimney at midnight.
I open the box I left here last September. It’s filled with things that only I would recognize: my personal belongings. It’s a strange feeling, after living as a homeless traveler for over a year, to reopen a collection of possessions. I feel a pang remembering my old life, the person I used to be. Someone with a home. Having places for little trinkets and candle votives and memorabilia from past travels. Luxuries like a metal stand for my guitar. My own shampoo. I find notes and to-do lists on scraps of paper; a record of the things that were once important to me. I find clothing that I left behind. These were my t-shirts. I find a pile of empty pen cartridges.
In the evening, after cooking dinner, I dim the lights and set out candles. I pour myself a glass of red wine and burn a stick of sandalwood incense, recreating the atmosphere I used to cultivate each day during my time in this place.
Then I find my writing. I slip the pages from a huge manila envelope and I drop the heavy manuscript onto the table, the impact making the candle flames quiver. I spread out the yellow legal pads crammed with the first handwritten versions of the words. I pull out my notebooks from this past year; all of them:
Notebook 1: Ruminations
Notebook 2: Perseverance
Notebook 3: Movement
Notebook 4: A Collection of Pages That Used to be Blank
Notebook 5: Taking Flight
Notebook 6: Human
The small journal I carried with me in Haiti
Notebook 7: Reconciliation
And my current notebook, no longer numbered, entitled “Dave the Traveler.”
I spread these collections across the wood table, sliding candles out of the way. One by one I flip them open to random pages, exposing disjointed fragments of this year’s journey, and I leave them open scattered across the table. The most marked thing I notice is that my heart is not beating any faster as I do this. The last time I was here in the cabin, I was overcome by uncertainty, doubt, loneliness, patches of despair. I had no idea whether what I was doing was right. My piece Threads records a glimpse of the angst and doubt I was feeling here back in December nearly a year ago. Notebook #2 addresses my preparation for departure, long before I had any idea that this thing would become a year-long odyssey.
Glancing across the exposed pages, I see fear, naivety, doubt, and endless questions in different excerpts from different stages of my journey, especially the early months. Rereading these old words, I remember exactly how I felt. And I can’t say I ever concretely made peace with anything. Yet, reading these troubled words that apparently came from my own hand, from those pen cartridges that are now empty…I read them calmly now, not quite fondly, but with a certain degree of peace. Remembering does not rip open anything painful. I just look back with a slightly sad, detached sort of compassion, the way I might listen to the troubles of a dear friend. Does this mean that, through the mysterious working of time, peace has somehow come to me of its own accord?
I am different now, I write in my current notebook.
I am a different person than the Dave who left this cabin last December and last September.
I left in September to hitchhike across the country, but I had no idea how to actually accomplish that feat.
I left in December with a car full of possession to travel indefinitely with no direction, lots of doubt, and no clue what I was doing.
I thought I should try to live without money, but I had no idea if it was possible.
I did not have the confidence to survive as a long-term traveler.
Last time I left, I had no idea what the fate of my writing would be.
Last time I left, I had been blogging for one month and celebrated when I got 20 hits in a day.
Last time, I was torn up by my confusion about the idea of “home.”
Last time, I was on notebook #5.
The last time I left this place, I had never been to Haiti.
I had never been to the Yukon.
I hadn’t run out of money and chosen to continue traveling. I had never slept under a bridge. I’d never played guitar on the street. I hadn’t fasted in the desert through New Years. I had not been to the bus from Into the Wild. I had never arrived in a new city at night with no money. I hadn’t met certain people who are now close friends. I had never sung a lullaby to a red rising moon.
Last time I left, I had never sacrificed anything serious in pursuit of a dream.
I had never seen the northern lights.
I am different now than I was before.