Monday, May 16, 2011

Going Home Again

Washington is the state where I was born, in Swedish Hospital in Seattle. It's a land of mountains and water, and of course, the ferries. Seattle was where I went after graduation, where my first real job was as the counter muffin receptionist at a freight forwarding office near the port. I think I was hired more for the fact that I was five foot 11 in high heels and I could cuss in Swedish AND Norwegian, than for any ability whatsoever on a switchboard, but it paid for some college.

I loved the city back then, and when I was able to go back there for a night with a friend, it felt good to be back. Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, the sun skipping off the Olympic Mountains, their serrated edges outlined in gold and white. On rare days it's a jewel of a city, diamond brilliance on blue clarity. But it is also a grey city, grey with the comfort of low clouds that drap over mountains like a shawl, keeping you warm.

My Dad's left Montana and moved out towards the coast where it's a little warmer, and someone asked me if I'd consider moving back. As I gazed out across the Sound, the call of the ferry a soliloquy to a life long ago, I did think about it. I had always thought that area was a part of me I'd bequeath to my past. Could I live here again? Reliving memories of college and friends and family long since dead. What would it be like? As I think of the ferries, I can picture the spray against my face as I dash towards my car, the memory a brief childhood dash through the sprinklers on a hot summer day.

I love the Midwest, and I've been here longer than anywhere. It's not really anything I planned on, it's just been the life I have led. I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land . . . across rivers and towns. My Mom would have preferred I marry a hometown boy and stay in the tiny town in which I was raised, but once I tasted adventure, I was born into that gypsy life and have never really known another.

St. Expurey said "he who would travel happily must travel light". And this adventurer did travel light for so many years, my books my biggest possessions and my photos of friends and family around my bed my only company most nights. There have been so many flights, so many moment that shine in my memory, milestones along the uncharted airway that made up my life. In the early years, I remember not just the airplanes themselves as I instructed to pay for college, but the feel of the cotton shirt I wore, the smell of my students aftershave, the song that was playing inside when I ran in to check the weather again. It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug sprayed glass that tints the world bright.

The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career,but some things never changed. The firm tension of the throttles, the ever varying display of numbers on gauges that ranged from the antique to the technically sublime. My memory just remembers my hands, clasped on the yoke, a testament to their refusal to be separated for long. The voices of the controllers reminding me that I was of the earth, the window reflecting the satisfied smile of being exactly where I wanted to be. It might have been Fall or Spring, morning or night, but the feeling deep within the remembrance always stays the same. My life's journey have have changed and if I didn't have roots, there was that one constant. That of my reflection in that little plane window, still enraptured by a cockpit's illumination of a dream. No one could take that from me.

Certainly, not all the changes I chose, but I found crying about it didn't make it easier, it's easier to pack what remains and look onward. So I looked at each new move, each progression in my career, like a new page, a chance to experience each day, each sky in all its glory Another bag to unpack, full of memories of adventure. Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with a full size bar of soap anyway.

Freedom. For now, at an age when many friends have 2 kids and a huge mortgage, I've downsized, house sold, land leased, and am living out of boxes again, with more money and time to travel and spend times with friends and family. Live simply, love hard. It beats the heck out of stress and 12 rooms one doesn't need. It's freedom, it's time.

Time. To crawl in the cockpit of a little plane once in a while, watching a new day slowly unfold above the clouds. The sun casting a pink haze over the sky, long before I could actually see its rays, as the ridges that rose from the land took on a glow you can't see from the ground. For just a moment there are no sounds but life whispering the reverent hum of a Lycoming engine. It's a moment in space where you can feel the depth and potential of your existence there in a snippet of sky. There's no time for earthly worries, for when the earth turned on its axis one more time and I saw that sun rising over the nose of my airplane, it was universe reminding me of all that I did have. Amongst which was yet another day aloft, breathing deep the freedom of choice.

Choices, like when I moved to a place I had never been, for a chance at a new career. Packing up books and a 12 point deer mount that sat on the front seat of my car, Bambi wearing a baseball cap, I drove two solid days, to arrive in the middle of the night in a place I'd never set foot except for a brief job interview. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red winged birds, gold winged motorcycles and farm trucks all blending into a bright diorama of my new life. From my view point in that tiny car I was sitting tall, this new land rushing past me, racing at me, then away from me, the bug spattering on the window and the chatter of the DJ in my ear. I watched a dozen cumulus clouds erupt, mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny diner and the trip was just beginning.

As I sat under the calm grey of that Washington sky, I realize that a journey is not going back, it's going forward. Home is where the heart is, not where you hang your hat or even where you grew up. It's simply home. It's someone that loves you beyond measure. Its faith and strength in the countless days marked with bitter cold and radiating warmth, monotonous wonderful days of work and friends, gunfire and laughter, water and sky. It's countless days of joy now receding like ancient glaciers that once crept down upon the place where my life sits now, leaving the land flat in their wake, leaving an ancient mark upon my heart. A gypsy heart that's finally taking root.

I had a few hours before my flight back so I took public transport down to the waterline and watched the ferries one last time. I simply stood and looked, seeing their wake rippling outwards towards where I watched from a great distance, the movement bringing up a smell of the water that reminds me of so many years ago, so many memories, moving away. The ferry's shadow moved away too, towards the vacant sweep of water, empty of movement, empty of the present. I could see nothing in the distance in the evening mist, it was as if the ferry was going to crash into a wall of smoke, only to fade into it and disappear, as if it had never been. To keep it in my minds eye I had to draw upon memory, the world before me material without being real, memory drifting like lost ghosts breathing the air of forlorn dreams.

That's when I realized, that this land, this city, is composed of memories not likely not to be recreated simply by moving back here. The house where I spent so much time with my Aunt and Uncle here has been razed. The flight school where I got my commercial license has been torn down. The streets are crowded and unfamiliar. I'm not a liberal and I hate traffic. I'm a stranger here only tied to this spot by ghosts on the water. Everything left is spirit and illusion and no matter how hard I try to look out across the Sound, the ferry is gone.

So in those last hours in the city, I stood at the shoreline and looked up. Alone again, having said my goodbyes, already planning the next adventure. Untended under heedless sky, the short broken puffs of smoke that linger on the wake, only a forgotten whisper, I turn from the water towards home.