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.