I am in Miami right now. I have been writing this blog for over one year at this point. In a strange way, this thing has become a sort of home. A place I can come to share this all with someone, with you. Your being with me has given me the strength to continue many more times than you know.
Rather than try to explain what I mean, I would like to share a few words from a note my friend Kat sent me a couple months ago. “currently i’m with you as you sing to the moon in new mexico,” she wrote.
“i have moments where i wonder where you are in the world, and what you are doing, and i really, truely mean it when i say i am with you on your journey. we all are. in physicality you may be alone, and you may be actively seeking solitude, which you can and will find. but one of the flip-sides of the body-soul detachment must surely be that the soul can wander where the body is unable to. i know for sure that when i read your beautiful words, my soul is right by your side, and i’m sure there are others who feel the same. so when you are experiencing that longing for human contact, take comfort in the fact that although you may not be able to see us, or talk to us, or feel us, there are so many people whose souls are with you on your journey.”
I wrote this following piece before heading up to New York. The time feels right now to finally post it. Of course, the journey never ends, but this piece chronicles my flight from Colorado back to my house outside DC…what feels like the final segment of this last year’s journey.
Running from the Sunset
I spend a final evening with Marie, meet Joe in the morning at the creek by 15th Street Coffee, and then hit the road and leave Colorado for good. In my side mirrors, the Rockies sink into the earth and Colorado plains soon smooth into Kansas farmland. Amidst a thousand golden fields the sun drops like a bomb and ignites. Ripples of color mushroom upwards from the ground, a celestial candle melting away below the western skies, and I’m running now, running from the sunset when once I was chasing it, running into the cover of darkness, the safety and the silence, runny red orange bleeding behind me, running into night, where I can disappear from the world for some hours, the time to sleep and dream and momentarily release whatever we carry, disappear from the world for a while, because this has all been just one long long day, this whole thing, and I am too weary now to chase anything else.
Somewhere in central Kansas I pull off the highway onto some dark street. I lay my bag out in a field beneath wild stars amongst dozens of bales of hay. I can’t sleep at first, so I snuggle into my bag and watch Orion come up through the trees. I don’t know what city I’m near, I couldn’t pinpoint my location on a map within a hundred miles, but of what consequence is this? I know exactly where I am—right here. Beside the hay, beneath Orion rising against the blue black, between earth and sky, and everything I can see is part of this home tonight, within this celestial snow globe…the fresh chilly wind that carries scents of damp earth, the scraggly tree branches silhouetted before the stars, the texture of the soil beneath me, the sounds of distant I-70 traffic; this place is the guest bedroom I have been offered tonight by the world.
Dawn, a crimson streak through the sky, the trail of a skywriter, and I doze in and out until it is time to hit the road. To St. Louis, wandering with Charlie through places spiked with his childhood memories. Then I get back on the road and drive through East St. Louis where a woman working in Domino’s offers me a free pizza. In Indiana I lay out my bag beside a pasture, well aware that this might be my last night on the road. How did this end come? I remember soaring through Arizona months ago, during the hard times, and realizing even then that I might one day feel a sort of nostalgia for this chapter of life.
At 5:45 in the morning, I awake to red and blue lights, the whoop of a siren, and a spotlight pointed at my face. Someone had called the police about a guy sleeping in a ditch, but the cop was friendly and he wished me a safe journey.
The road at sunrise, brightness burning through haze. Into Kentucky, Louisville perched on the banks of the river, through West Virginia and the Appalachians, then finally into the edges of Virginia. Into-the-woods-sunset, brilliant colors and scratchy brown naked branches through which the sunlight filters, and as the horizon kidnaps the sun I emerge from the forest onto Route 66 at dark. I roll up the windows and a silence suddenly descends. With cruise control on I speed along, with the others, me just a shred of fabric in these red and white ribbons stretching in both directions forever. The car hums, this machine powering me through towards home, odometer at almost 7,500 miles since Anchorage, and I will sleep in my own bed tonight, I try to hold that thought in my mind and remember Vancouver, Eugene, Stampede Trail, all the moments when I longed for safety and comfort, but my mind wanders on. This landscape feels new to me, the tidewater forests, after all the rest I have touched. The folds of these hills have always been familiar rather than beautiful, but now, in contrast with the Colorado Rockies, the Oregon coast, the vast central plains, the great Northern taiga, the southern marshes…I ignore the buildings and roads and all other evidence of human presence and suddenly I see the forests of the northeast as if for the first time.
Onto roads I recognize. But I don’t know this place, I feel as the highway-under-construction snakes past places I used to frequent. I don’t know these trees, I don’t know where to sleep in this city, which are the best bridges. I don’t know where to find food or travelers, the best spots to busk, the parking lots to leave a car all day to wander the streets barefoot. I don’t know the train yards or the best places to hitch out from. Do I know this place? What the hell have I just been through that these are now my measures of my knowledge of a place? The notebooks are heavy in the trunk I would never have anticipated this moment 400 some days ago when I first stepped onto the highway in California.
The red and white ribbons carry me along, and I remember, I momentarily relive my journey. An immense map laid out in my mind, I see myself out there holding up my thumb in the warm California morning. I set out from Arnold and hitched up to Tahoe, got stranded in Central California and huddled next to a fire all night to keep warm, made it down to Arizona, soared across the country back to Miami, headed north lost and confused up through DC and New York and Boston and New Hampshire, drove back across the country through Pittsburgh and Columbus, Indiana and Chicago and Iowa and Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado, Utah and Nevada, drove over the Rockies and back into California to move my stuff out from Arnold. I tipped south and climbed the hill behind Berkeley and looked out across the lights of San Francisco, met Pascal in Monterey and meandered down the coast of California, spent New Years alone in the deserts of Joshua Tree, zigzagged across the southwest through Flagstaff and Phoenix and Albuquerque and Santa Fe, White Sands, the remote emptiness of eastern New Mexico, into Oklahoma and through Texas to the coffee shops of Austin. I wandered the bayous of Louisiana and returned to New Orleans, cut across Mississippi and Alabama into Florida and zoomed back down to Miami again and still didn’t find what I was looking for there and then I drove up to DC and then back down to Miami to fly to Haiti. I built homes near Port-au-Prince, returned to the US, traveled nearly the entire length of I-95 from Miami through Daytona and Jacksonville, Savannah and South Carolina, North Carolina, the Appalachians, through Maryland and Delaware, New Jersey, up to New York through Connecticut to Boston and New Hampshire again, then back down to DC. I lit out west from DC and soared through Asheville and Nashville, through Little Rock and Dallas, into the Rockies of Colorado, spent a couple weeks in Boulder and Denver and Nederland, ran out of money, headed north through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and Glacier National Park, Missoula and Whitefish, got turned away from the border and then went to Canada anyway, arrived in Banff with no Canadian money. I drank a caramel latte in Calgary, wandered the streets in Edmonton, assailed 2,500 miles of the Alaska Highway with spontaneous travel companions and northern wildlife, lived in a gazebo on the banks of the Yukon River, drove the Road to Inuvik and found the northern lights, passed into Alaska, left Fairbanks to make a pilgrimage out to the bus from Into the Wild, down to Anchorage, Tok, with Marcus and Rob and Ronan drove the 2,500 miles back down to Vancouver then took Amber through Seattle, Portland, Newport, Eugene, Grants Pass, Eureka, Hayfork. I zoomed down I-5 through California and returned to friends in the Bay Area, stopped by the cabin to make peace with the place, visited Kathi and Bob in Minden, drove through Nevada and Utah and Colorado and Kansas and Illinois and Indiana and Kentucky and West Virginia and Virginia.
And now, I feel myself called into stillness.
I need to write, read, study, reflect. It’s time to revisit the stack of notebooks from this year and think about what this time has meant for me. Traveling has become my art; what am I to do with this now? I am grateful for one year of this blog; what now is my relationship with writing? And what of home, identity, purpose? There is so much in my heart, so many dangerously important ideas, and I need now to be still so that they can begin to untangle themselves.
I pull off the highway onto roads I know, and I feel as if I could follow their contours with my eyes closed. Something has changed in me since the last time I was here. In my own neighborhood, through streets, I notice the minute differences, the things that have changed in my absence.
You’ve been everywhere, some people say to me. No, I haven’t. No, I have not. The list of places I haven’t been will always be infinitely longer than the list of places I have.
I pull into my driveway, and my house sits there, lights burning like candles in the windows.
Now I have work to do.