I first ran away from home when I was nearly five. It was a classic trip. I gathered my belongings in a red bandana, tied them to a short bamboo pole, and started out, heading west. Southwest, actually. I got to two blocks south and five blocks west and decided that by then I must have been missed enough at home that my mother would properly appreciate me. (I was suffering from the coming of a baby brother.) When I returned home, I had not been missed at all. She had assumed I had been playing behind the garage, which was where I often hung out to make bombs to prepare for the defense against the coming invasion of Jefferson Avenue by the Soviets.
In those days Jonesboro, Arkansas, was called by the Chamber of Commerce 'The City Ready for Tomorrow'. It may have been ready for tomorrow, but it never seemed to me quite ready for today, so much of my life would be spent leaving and coming back tomorrow to see if it were ready. First I left for Memphis and Chicago and Memphis, to attend school and to teach school. But I was stricken with parenthood, and returned to Jonesboro so the offspring could enjoy being grandchildren. The grass, however, remained greener on the other side of the Mississippi. I returned to Memphis for more education and more teaching. From Memphis I would venture forth to Santa Fe and then to Charleston, both of which I enjoyed very much. (I just realized I have not discussed my Charleston sojourn in this little narrative, an omission I shall try to correct.) I would return to Jonesboro yet again, in episodes described in this blog as 'Hills of Home 1 &2'.
In 2001 I would run away from Jonesboro yet again, this time to the Northwest, and much farther than two blocks and five. As I was packing to depart for an undecided destination, which needed to have water and mountains, I received a letter from a friend I had met in Santa Fe who was now living in Seattle. Come to Seattle, he said. I would like it, he said. There are water and mountains in one convenient location, he said. I did. He was right. Some of my adventures in the Great Northwest are described in a blog bit I wrote a while ago. It is not, however, the adventure of coming up here to Washington State but the complex feelings I have come to have of home since moving here.
I have been an inconsistent Cascadian. When people ask me how long I have been in Port Townsend, my current home address, I can truthfully say 'since 2001', since that was when I first washed up upon these shores. But, even though I have come to love this area, I am an inconstant lover. I have twice gone back to the Ozarks for visits that always turn out to be longer than expected. Sometimes I say that the Ozarks are my wife and Cascadia is my mistress. Both are beautiful. The truth is, however, that the Ozarks are a little too torrid for me in my old age. The temperatures there in the summer often rise to levels at which old people are advised to stay inside. I have become old people.
The most significant difference in my old age running away from home from my four year old's running away is the method I now use. In my romantic view of myself, I am about to run away on my bicycle.
Or perhaps I will take the wheel of a dragon boat, and go forth once more upon the seas.
But the reality is that more often than not, except for a few excursions by bicycle, usually day trips, my window on the world has become a screen connected by long strings of binary numbers to a universe far bigger than the 2x5 grid of my childhood or the longest trips of my adulthood.
It is true that I conceive of that screen as the ship of a space pirate At one time I would have--indeed did--dismiss such conceptions as falling short of reality, of being delusional. But it also true that my web surfing has taken me to experiences at least as profound as any I have had on mountains or the sea. (I called my previous Chromebook the Silver Surfer.)
There is, I suspect, a very valid reason that all of the people with whom I was sharing the beach yesterday were holding a small screen in their hand. Were they running away? Perhaps. Perhaps some of them were unhappy at home, feeling as unappreciated as I did when I was four and had to share my mother with a new brother. But it seems just as likely that they were running towards a bigger world, a world that is not ready for tomorrow but is tomorrow, ready or not.
What I am pretty sure of is that I do enjoy the varieties of ways I now have of exploring the world. I'm not ready to give up my bicycle, and I am considering buying another kayak. But I also enjoy wandering around in Google Earth, and playing a sea farer in The Legend of Zelda Windwaker, and I ain't ashamed to say so.