All those golden autumn days the sky was full of wings. . . The wings and the golden weather and the tang of frost in the mornings made Laura want to go somewhere. She did not know where. She wanted only to go.
"Let's go West," she said one night after supper. "Pa, can't we go West when Uncle Henry does?"
. . . "I know, little Half-pint," said Pa, and his voice was very kind. "You and I want to fly like the birds. . .”1
Wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts and seeing snow geese—all glossy white with black-tipped wings—are among the signs that September has arrived in all her tawny glory. The incense of woodsmoke, the vaulted vibrant blue skies, and the slant of the afternoon sunlight all beckon me to come out and play. “Come West,” they whisper. And I do. I nose my car through fresh winds, snaking over mountain passes until I find a place to get lost in the wild and the beauty. Like little Laura, I ache to go West, to live freely. Free from schedules—the ever-pressing fist of time—and free from others’ expectations.
Familiarity feels like the level ground I need to leave behind on the hunt for paths that climb ever-upward. What is it that I long for, that I can’t get out of my blood no matter how often I hike until the stars wink open? The leaves of my favourite books rustle with the answer. I would never have believed just one of them; but when the overflowing shelves all carry me from an unassuming front door to wild lands, beasts, and men, only to arrive back at home, I take notice.
Home revolves around the familiar, the mundane. It is family and friends going deeper, butting heads, holding hands, reaching out, being still, being vulnerable. Though the familiar and intimate draw things out slowly and graciously, I often find myself like a ruptured seed buried in the earth. I struggle toward the surface, feeling the urge to keep pressing upward, though I don’t know why or what lies ahead.
Often I vacillate, wanting the routine and familiarity of the daily—yet restlessly craving the freedom and thrill of the untamed, the unexplored. I want to run away from all I have known and taste something wild and fresh. Restlessness, however, stems from dissatisfaction—named or unnamed; whilst imagination breathes life and satisfaction into the daily and the anomaly—the level ground and the arduous uphill climb.
How little I have learned from those tales of adventure—everywhere I turn, home is the way things end. Like Chesterton’s farm boy seeking a giant only to find he always lived upon one, or dissatisfied John in Pilgrim’s Regress, I suppose I will have to hike the whole globe ‘round to wind up at my own front doorstep, with my own mountains out the window.
“There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place. . .”2
Tolkien ends both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings with the Hobbits’ return to the Shire. To be sure, the quest challenged and forged those who dared to go on it—fitting them for both the scouring of the Shire and the honest work of rebuilding and guiding it. But it is the cosy hearth fires of home and the minding of one’s own garden that the Hobbits are about for most of their lives. The quest of the Ring made each character wiser, nobler, and deeper—fitting them richly for the quotidian tasks of Shire life. The love of home is worth leaving it and fighting for it, in order that others might have that very home, even if they are unaware of those who have gone to great lengths to keep it free, peaceful, and beautiful.
If our ancestors and those in our military have sacrificed what is most precious to them that we might have a home, why do we often fly from it like so many birds on the wing? It is not the familiar and comfortable that stop my ears and blind my eyes to the gifts I have here and now. It is my own sins that make me “grow old” as Chesterton puts it. Adventure sounds alluring, but the heights are so windy that tears blind us, the ground is rocky and hard to sleep on, the uphill climb makes our lungs and legs burn. Do harshness and denial make us grateful for our everyday gifts of running water and a comfy beds? Does the beauty of a new place resonate in our hearts because it calls to mind that which we first loved, the beauty learned at home?
How do we live on the level ground, the familiar and cosy, whilst still pursuing the upward trek of adventure and all its hardships? We need both. The adventure takes us far enough away to see that what we have been looking for is in our own gardens, as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard.”3 It took quite the journey for her to gain that perspective.
Some find home by staying there, but others of us must circumnavigate the globe all the way back to our own cosy Hobbit holes. It is a long journey, but perhaps when we land, we will learn to appreciate what we had all along, rather than taking it for granted—to see life abundant in the mundane, and beauty all around. After all, “there’s no place like home.”4
- Wilder, Laura Ingalls, By the Shores of Silver Lake (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers) 126, emphasis mine
- Chesterton, G. K., The Everlasting Man (Garden City: New York, Doubleday and Company) 11
- Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (Directed by Victor Fleming and George Cukor. 1939 MGM studios)