Aug 6, 2014

A long time coming

I've been a wanderer all my life. Yes, all my life. When I was four or five, I wasn't too interested in staying within the confines of the backyard, so much as venturing deep into the woods to play. I would embark on what seemed to my little self like long, long trips away from home, even though I was supposed to be staying close and within sight of the house. Of course, I was never unsupervised; my loyal black lab and golden retriever were always keen to tag along and serve as guardian and protector. In the summer, we would swim in the pond and catch newts, or in the winter, perhaps do some impromptu ice skating. The few hundred wild acres behind our house was a vast, unexplored world full of wonder and amazement, and I always longed to lose myself within its fascinating reaches. I was never afraid of becoming lost amongst the vast stretches of Oregon woods, or getting caught out in the dark, but I can imagine I made my parents nervous on more than one occasion. When they saw a big black blur with a long pink tongue emerge from the bushes at twilight, however, they knew I would always be right behind.

When I turned six and was suddenly placed into first grade, I did not take kindly whatsoever to the structured, rigidly scheduled environment of school. My teacher eventually had to move me away from the window and have me sit facing toward the wall, for I spent far too much time staring through the glass at the trees outside, daydreaming. Unfortunately, the wall I ended up facing was home to a big, bad clock, with hands that moved slower than a snail over a glue trap. Little did I know that for years after I would see dozens of clocks just like it, and the hands would never move any faster. It seemed the final bell of the day, the freedom ring, never came soon enough. I always found myself fleeing down the schoolhouse hallway to board the bus home, eager to escape my tears of boredom. Nothing was more satisfying than being pounced by my dogs when I finally got home, then dashing back into the forest with them for the remaining hours of the day.

Even at that tender age, the woods represented freedom from the shackles of the excruciating daily routine, from expectations to behave, follow directions, and "get along" with my classmates. I didn't do well with any of those. I certainly never adjusted to the numbing routine and everyday procedures of the day, and I felt no inclination to play with any of my peers, either. In fact, I spent one recess down by the creek in the woods nearby, my innocent little mind not possibly imagining that I could be breaking any sort of rule. In fact, it was contemplated going for a dip. But a teacher found me, roped me back by the arm toward the schoolyard, and told me she was going to have a chat with my parents. I don't recall ever facing any severe punishment for such a transgression. Later on, I did it again. And made sure no one noticed.

So for the first few years of my life, even though my parents moved around among several different houses, I always lived out in the country and had vast amounts of surrounding beautiful acreage to run around and play in. I'm sure that significantly helped shape my character, and my appreciation and need for natural surroundings that persists as strongly as ever to this day. However, when I was all but 7, life changed dramatically, when my parents left the great state of Oregon and moved us far, far away. I was so used to having all the space in the world to roam and explore freely without encountering a single barrier. And then, all of a sudden, we ended up living in a sprawling apartment complex called Banyan Harbor. We all squeezed into a two bedroom unit to fit all four of us. We were in the middle of a city. And I barely knew what to do with myself.

Fortunately, we weren't stuck in some completely ordinary suburban sprawl, or dirty, seedy urban zone. We were, in fact, on the island of Kauai, steps from a beautiful white sand beach lapped by the perpetually warm, turquoise waters of the Pacific. It took me awhile to adjust to the sheer amount of commotion about the area, with the density of human population living there, number of beach visitors walking about, and all the busy affairs of the huge resort sitting just adjacent to the beach. Gone were the days of wandering off into the woods, for there was nothing immediately opposite the ocean but city, city, city. And left on the mainland in friends' care were my beloved canine companions.

But, y'know, I really took to the beach. Early on, I discovered the meaning of a true sunburn, before becoming tan as a local boy. I spent hours in the waves on a near daily basis. I had a sandbox back in Oregon, but it didn't compare to playing in the sand on a beach in Kauai. Eventually, we moved to a rental house in a smaller, quieter town on the island, but still just a few minutes' walk from the beach, one that sprawled uninterrupted for miles. It was there that I was really able to find my solitude again, if only on the vast reaches of unoccupied white sand.

My dad would frequently take us on trips all around the island, showing us wondrous places in paradise that seem dreamlike not only in memory, but no less impressive last time I visited them just a few years ago. When we moved to the Big Island just a couple years later, we lived in increasingly rural places, and we got to go on wondrous adventures all around that island as well.

It's quite evident my traveling gypsy parents heavily influenced by own wandering tendencies today. Since finishing university in 2006, I became a very nomadic soul, bouncing around from place to place across the western U.S., just exploring as an adult, perhaps passively searching for a home of true belonging. I slept in the hallway of a friend's house for months at a time, living out of suitcases. To me, that doesn't seem so inappropriate for someone in their 20s who is just out to see and experience the world. In 2009, I flew off to Germany and spent six weeks there with friends, and that ended up being an incredible experience I will never forget.

But I always ended up coming back to Hawaii in the end, and it always felt perfectly right to do so. It always felt so good to be home again. Yet, I always felt like something crucial was missing. I had my paradise and my freedom, beautiful natural surroundings in every direction to lose myself in whenever I needed to. But I still felt much too listless and alone, and eventually the ill feelings drove me to wander away from home time and time again.

In 2010, I ended up moving back to Arizona for the first time since attending community college there 10 years prior, and it sure wasn't for the sake of being in Arizona. It's because my true love was there, and I was willing to make sacrifices just to finally be with her ... and so was she. That's about the time when I finally began to sort out what I really wanted to get out of life, and I knew my mate would always be a key element in the equation.

Now here we are in 2014, no longer in Arizona, thank goodness, but in a much more agreeable mainland location. Squeezed into an apartment in the city, just like my parents did when they dropped everything and moved us to Hawaii, but at least in a fairly nice Pacific northwestern town. She left her family behind in Arizona, and I left mine in Hawaii, and we carved out our little niche here in the extreme tippy tip of northwestern Washington. We happen to really like it up here.

We're nothing close to being settled, however. In fact, my spirit is likely more unsettled than anything. For the first time in my life, though, I am really desiring to finally settle. By which I mean, find a house to call our own that we can turn into something more than just a transitional space, and even work myself into a comfortable career. I suppose we're about the right age to really feel ready for that.

Yet, a nagging suspicion that I've held for quite some time has recently been confirmed. Hawaii is far too much a part of me to stay away for long. I have a certain spiritual connection to the place, of an intensity that few could comprehend, and when I am removed from it, a certain, integral part of myself is missing. A two week vacation back to the island once or twice a year isn't nearly enough compensation. It was incredibly hard to drag myself back here after our two week vacation there in July, and it's become more difficult to envision much of a future anywhere else but there. Hawaii is where my heart resides, and somehow I'm just certain that's where we're going to end up sooner than we think.

Spoiled as I must sound, this place doesn't feel nearly as sacred or alive, and consequently, I don't feel as alive. The absence of that island spirit is almost painful, but I was never so acutely tuned into it as I became just the past few weeks.

I'll always be a wanderer, but I now have a greater sense of where true home is, and will always be, than I ever have before. Not only back on my island, but with the one who is able to truly appreciate it as much as I do. We will settle for nothing less than paradise.

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