Home is Where my Tent is (at least for now)
I have spent the last 88 miles in Massachusetts. This is the only state the AT passes through that I have lived in and have some real claim to. Walking through I place that I once called home, albeit a long time ago and really the campus more than the whole state has been an interesting experience. I didn’t feel that tug at your heart or that easy exhale that reminds you are back in the familiar, back where you need to be. But I did live here during some formative years and a lot of memories came back.
I have never been a fan of small talk and would rather just get to deeper more meaningful conversations right away. When you meet up to 20 people everyday including day hikers, section hikers, town locals, SOBOs and fellow NOBOs small talk is just a part of the game. As much as I wished the first question asked was “what sets your soul on fire?” or “where do you daydream of travelling to?” A few other questions reign supreme: “When did you start?” “What does your pack weigh?” and of course the unavoidable “Where are you from?”
4 innocuous words and the basis of almost every interaction with a new person. Every single day you are asked this question. It’s a harmless way to connect to other people and I find myself asking others all the time. But for some the question is more loaded.
Where are you from?
I’m from Alaska.
That is true but not the whole story. I am from Alaska, Fairbanks specifically but I worked two summers in Denali, lived in Montana for almost four years, spent a year and a half in Austin, went to college in Boston with one semester abroad in New Zealand, spent months living out of a backpack trotting around South East Asia and spent a year teaching in South Korea. But originally, yes, Alaska.
Place is important to me. Each place I have spent time in has shaped me, changed me, helped me widen my perspective and build bonds and friendships. I’ve lived in mountains, cities and places where I don’t speak the language. I have been lonely. I have started over, I have packed and unpacked so many times I have lost track. Where I sleep has been a revolving door of apartments, employee housing, friend’s houses and of course a few stints in my parent’s basement.
I am often homesick despite my physical location because my heart is spread thin across the world and belongs a little bit to each of these places. I am always away.
When I go back to Alaska, I feel like an outsider. I no longer have friends there and with each return the community feels new. There is an emotional toll to constant restarting and a longing that sometimes seems like it can never be quenched because home feels like a memory and not a place I can go.
I don’t own stuff. I can’t hang things on walls and for a while that made me sad.
But right now I feel like I have a home.
The trail is where I live. My tent is my home. I can’t hang anything in it but the feeling I get crawling into my tent at the end of a long day is the feeling I have had coming back to my beloved apartments after a long day at work. I find comfort in the white blazes, familiarity in campsites nostalgia for the states I have walked through and the rivers I have slept by. I have a community now. My fellow hikers and those who go out of their way to support and encourage us.
Home is a community not place. Home right now is a 2 foot wide and 2,000 mile long stretch of dirt (and rocks, roots, mud and puddles).
But just like all the places I have lived before, this home has an end date on it. About 6 more weeks.
I get to live in my tent for about six weeks. That thought is intimidating because just when I feel I have found what I have been looking for is just as soon as it is time to start over again. But I will refute that thought with presence and gratitude that for a few weeks of my life I can exist in both spaces of community and freedom, that I don’t have to be homesick because for 2,189 I am there.
Although this experience is fleeting I can stay present and not worry about the future, after all worry is a waste of time concerned about an imaginary future. And as much as a long for a permanent place that is mine, I have already begun researching new adventures which would uproot me again.
So when someone asks me where I am from, I say Alaska. But I mean so much more. They say home is where the heart is and at least for now, and for which I am grateful my heart is on this trail.
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