Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Evolving Elusive "Home"

Home is a concept I can't seem to put my finger on.   Is it a place?  Is it where the heart is?   Is it where the skies are not cloudy all day?  Is it true that there's no place like home?   Or is it true that you can never go back home?

I remember when I first left my childhood home for college.  During freshman year I met new friends from all over the world, and one of the most common conversation starters was "where are you from?"  That first year when Thanksgiving or spring break came around, I would tell people I was going "home."    Home was where I grew up, it was my parents' house, it was not Tufts University or Medford, MA, where I hung my hat every day.

Sometime before graduation, however,  my language about home changed.  By my senior year, when I Ieft Boston to visit my parents, I found myself telling people I was "going to Connecticut" or "having Thanksgiving at my parents' house."  And after visiting there I was returning "home" to Boston.

Flash forward about 17 years and there I am moving 4,000 miles away to Alaska.  For many years I told people I was living "out west," and when I returned to New England I was "going home."   Then one day it shifted.   I was "going back east" when I visited my family and "going home" when returning to Alaska.

I wonder what subtle changes occur to shift my idea of home from one place to another.  Is it time passing?  Is it making connections?  Is it a physical response to my surroundings?  Is it the history, the adventures, the memories I create there?

My most recent home was aboard our sailboat Northern Passage.  She carried my family on a year+ long adventure through the waters of Alaska, Canada, the western United States and Mexico.  From the moment I set foot aboard her, S/V Northern Passage was Home.  She was our contained world that cuccooned us over almost 8,000 miles at sea.

Now, our sailboat home is put to bed, high and dry in Mexico, her soul/sails folded belowdecks, I imagine her paint peeling in the blazing sun, her decks, accustomed to moisture from sea and dew, now dry as a bone and dusty.   And her people no longer cooking, laughing, arguing, splashing, sleeping, breathing life into her.  

Since June we have been driving around the country visiting national wonders, camping and couch hopping with relatives and friends.  I feel like a gypsy even more than when we were at sea. 

Today, finally, we are  flying "home" to Alaska.  I wonder how quickly my psyche, my language, my heart will embrace my new/old home?   Or has the sea captured my spirit forever?  Has my definition of home been temporarily shifted or permanently changed?  

Now, when people ask me where I am from I say "Alaska."   But if they know me for longer than a few minutes, they soon learn that I grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and for most of my life that was home.   Eventually they know that I was born in the midwest, where my extended family still lives, and they know the story about the old mann in a Boston coffee shop who knew immediately that  I was a "good midwestern girl" at heart.

So, my home has evolved.  I will add to the list the Pacific Ocean and Mexican coast.  Perhaps I am a person who collects homes rather than plants my feet in one place.   Perhaps home is where the bonfires happen.  It is where my soul sings and the world feels balanced.  I am embarrassed to say that another old cliche about home rings true for me: home is where the heart is.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflecting on What I Learned At Sea, Part 1

Last March we began to sail north instead of south.  North from the southern tip of Pacific Mexico to the Sea of Cortez.  During the overnight passage to La Paz, I reflected on what I had learned since being at sea with my family beginning in July of 2012.  Here is my list of random thoughts as of April 2013.  Of course the amount of learning and discovery that went on was more than can ever be documented.  However, at 3:00am one night at sea, these are the things that popped into my head:

A dark, moonless, windless sea reflects starlight.

The dark velvety sea is alive with phosphorescence that light up florescent green when disturbed by the wake of our bow (or the body of my daughter during a nighttime swim). I am amazed every time I see them, like a small child I jump up and down and point, "Look!  Look!  Wow!!"  They look just like fairy dust.  Maybe they are?

I can see a dolphin swimming with speed and grace even clearer in a black sea than I can during the day, as it is outlined bright green and leaves a trail of phosphorescent fairy dust.

I still love to watch my children sleep.   Now that they frequently fall asleep in the cockpit during a night watch, I get to watch them like I did when they were babies.  I never tire of it.  As I stare at them and pet their smooth cheeks, I am in awe of the fact that I created them.

Pressure cooker meals are DELICIOUS!!!

A dolphin's breath sounds exactly like a human emerging from swimming underwater.

Quiet alone time outside in the wee hours of the night is good for the soul.

Yoga can be practiced anywhere, any time.  

I can design and sew canvas awnings.

A toilet bowl plunger works great as the "agitator" cycle on a hand-wash bucket system of washing clothes.

I honor and respect teachers even more than before, as this homeschooling journey has revealed to me that their patience and knowledge and intelligence and devotion are untouched by any other profession.

A night cool enough to put on a long sleeved shirt and pajama bottoms feels cozy and makes me happy.

I like being out of cell and wifi range.

Tiny Mexican limes pack a serious punch, are much more delicious than standard U.S. limes, and can be used at EVERY meal.

All Mexican fruit blows away fruit from the US, except maybe apples.

There really is such a thing as the "green flash," and it is very small and quick.

My mother is the best mother a girl could ever dream of having.

Cats really are boat animals.   I feel guilty taking Tiger back on land, he is so much more content aboard S/V Northern Passage.

There really is a bird called the Blue Footed Boobie.

Blue Footed Boobies can be seen riding across the ocean standing on sea turtles' backs.

Sunrises are made of magic.

Even baby (juvenile?) humpback whales have barnacles living on their jaws.

My daughter is a mermaid.

My son is a surfer.

My husband is an Adonis.

In an instant, a stranger can become a friend.

The ability to relate to people through their own language is just one of the magical things that happens when you can speak a language other than your own first language.

I am excited about going back to work.

There is a type of dolphin that does all of the tricks you've seen at a dolphin show, out in the wild with no treats for rewards!  Walking on the tail, leaping out of the water, full body flips.

Four bicycles on one 51 foot boat is NOT too many bikes!

I love my home in Alaska.

Fresh air every day is essential to health and happiness.

Wrinkles disappear with contentment.

A tortilla warmer basket, lime and orange squeezers, and many types of hot sauce are essential kitchen items.

For me, there is such a thing as water that is so warm it is no longer refreshing. 90+ degrees.

I do not enjoy the feeling of sweat dripping down my face before 10:00am.

I am no longer afraid of the open ocean.  I even wish we had experienced longer overnight passages (three nights was the longest).  The sweet rhythm we would fall into on that last day was a tease.  Perhaps I am ready to go further offshore.

I like a simple life.  I feel more content, more open, more passionate, more creative, with less.  Less is more for me.

I want to return to the sea - for longer next time.  Maybe forever.

My 125 pound engineer-surfer-deep-in-thought preteen son who is almost my height and whose feet are already two sizes bigger than mine will always be my boy who loves to snuggle and chat quietly with his mama.

My feisty beautiful graceful monkey-dolphin-girl is a poet and an artist and despite incessantly questioning me will always have reserved for her Mommy the biggest "Squeezy" hug on the planet.

My Capitan is my soul.   My breath.  My anchor and my wings. He nourishes me and gives me hope.