It was either Wallace Stegner or Wendell Berry who taught me that all novels are either about movement or place. On the Road or Huckleberry Finn are the classic movement novels, while Faulkner and James may be the standard for novels of place. Kerouac takes us cross country and Twain takes us down river, but Faulkner rarely takes us out of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. (Most southern novelist write about place, while most western novelists take us on the road.)
I have spent much of my life on the road–three cross country trips (two by bus), six weeks in Italy and Malta. trips to Russia. Haiti Peru and Guatemala, not to mention a whole year in Europe, while studying in Germany. I have driven from North Carolina to Alaska, and as I write this I am on a 2,700 mile journey from Alaska to Oregon.
When you are on the road, the only constant is you. Everything else changes. The scenery changes hour to hour, the food changes meal to meal, the people change like the flow of river. I can see why people think they can find their true selves on the road, because everything else is stripped away. on this trip my “raft” is small jeep, the Redhead my only companion, and everything outside of that is in constant flux.
On the other hand our little cocoon is winding its way downriver to a place we will call “home,” a place we hope to stay for a long time, a place that will be constant and familiar, a place that does not change very much. The problem with finding yourself on the road is that assumes the self is autonomous, and not connected to context. Mann ist was Mann isst, is not as true as Man ist wo man ist. We are where we are. I am one person on the road, and another person when I am at home (where ever home happens to be at the time).
The road refines our autonomy, and place refines our connectedness. On the road I am defined by what I leave behind. I came, I saw, I left. At home I am defined by what I treasure and hold near and dear. I travel to build experiences I can only keep in my memory. But when I become connected to a place, I build a sustainable life.
In some ways living in Alaska was like being on one long road trip. I did become connected to the place in some ways, but on the whole it was too awesome, too majestic and to frightening for a sustained connection. Alaska would overcome me, and I would lose myself in its largess. I want a place where I can be at home. Alaska is a transitory place. People come and go, and in the end you learn not to form deep relationships, because people leave all the time. (I am in the processing of leaving right now, and I cannot count how many people I have said goodbye to in the last 18 years.)
Perhaps the point of this blog is to find the Still Point. I have been on the move for too long. I am ready to settle down. I have settled down with the Redhead, I am ready to settle down with a congregation and I think I can settle down with my spiritual life.
It’s time to come home.