Going Home

You wake up at 4 a.m.

The sirens blare outside your window, almost drowning out the incessant noise of college bars and trains of revelry rolling nowhere.

You toss.

You turn.

Looking out the window, you try to remember what exactly a waterfall looks like, and how it felt when the water danced down your body in its own beautiful samba. You think of adventure, and you swear you can almost smell it on the wind.

Almost …

Three days before I left on my spontaneous trip to the great state of Colorado, I found myself standing in my boxers in the hallway outside my apartment. To make matters stranger, I was holding my  blue comforter in my right arm. The door had just closed in my face, and I was left confused, just standing there. After failing to open the locked door, the best I could figure was that I had sleepwalked out of my apartment while holding my comforter, and then somehow locked the door on the way out.

The best I could figure, my legs were telling me that I needed to walk.

Hell, I needed to hike.

Fast forward to boarding the plane at the Knoxville airport – I could hardly believe that I was on my way back to my former home; the place I had left behind six months earlier during a crisis of life. In my mind fluttered old memories and forgotten dreams. It seemed to me that anything worth talking about in my life had happened in Colorado, and I was immediately hit with a ting of regret at having left. The only thing that comforted me was the almost iridescent memories in my mind. The ones I wanted to remember and forget at the same time.

While I wasn’t being a sentimental fool, I shuffled through an old collection of John Long stories I had stowed away in my old, chewed-up backpack. One in particular caught my eye. It was called “Somewhere on the Horizon”, and was about some old adventuring buddies that have a chance meeting after years of separation. I was quite surprised when tears welled up in my eyes towards the end of the story. Trying not to lose it in front of the other passengers, I found myself particularly moved by a couple of lines right at the end of the tale:

“And as midnight loomed and the big jets ground overhead, I finally understood about loneliness – that it was always self-imposed, and that the loneliest man to ever die is he to whom nobody matters.”

And as I put away my book during our descent, I started to remember all my old friends; all the people from the past that mattered more than I had the strength to admit and the friends that I had done things with I would never forget.  It was very solemn for a second. Then the plane landed; I was in Colorado.

Now, it’s my theory that airports have one of the strongest forces of reminiscence around. All those people with different stories and different paths; brought to the same place by some chance of the universe. And it wasn’t long before the airport had its way with me. I suddenly remembered the girl I had said goodbye to in this very terminal. If I recall correctly, I had been just a bit sadder than she was. But who could blame her – she was beautiful, open and free; the sort of person that doesn’t need anyone else. To rub it in, though, she had the audacity to meet my favorite band that very day and then boast about it to me over the phone.

I think that fact is what bothered me the most.

As I walked out to the airport shuttle, I couldn’t help but remember my first trip to Colorado in 2009, on the way to some summer camp I had found on the internet. The subsequent ride to camp via minivan was nice enough as I tried to soak in the foreign scenery of mountains, red rocks, and green hills. What made it even more memorable was the evening session spent in the bathroom throwing pseudo-Chinese food and my guts up into the toilet. I learned that night, among other things, the importance of staying hydrated at high altitudes.

It was almost strange to me that I had done all these things and spent all these hours in Colorado. It was strange because I felt like a different person; someone who lived in the city, went out to dinner and coffee shops and only tasted the feeling of concrete and asphalt under their feet. Now, though, I had returned to a place I had once called home, and all the old feelings and memories were flooding back like the waters of the Nile. Suddenly, I could smell the remnants of old campfires and wild streams riding on the wind; could taste a thousand summers spent in aspen groves and tree forts, staring up at the moon for hours just because you could. What I saw was a chance to go home again.

Two days later I was heading south down Interstate 25, sun setting in oranges and purples directly to my right. I snapped a couple of pictures and smiled, knowing I was heading somewhere that meant something to me. First we hit Denver and then Colorado Springs; they went as quickly as they came. The next stop was Florissant, Colorado, the location of Sanborn Western Camps and my home for the previous three summers.

Just thinking about it reminded me of old people and forgotten stories. Like the one night a guy named Falcon and I finally tracked down our camp nemesis, the Beast, which just happened to be an unassuming porcupine that liked to gnaw the wood off of our ancient framed tents. We chased that sucker for half a mile, throwing sticks and rocks at its scuttling frame. As it hurried up a tree, Falcon made a last-ditch effort to impale it with some antlers he had picked up weeks before. We never saw those antlers again.

Then there was the ill-conceived trip we took to the Great Sand Dunes in the summer of 2009. The drive south through the mountains was unbelievably beautiful, and through some miracle of directions we actually made it to our destination. The park ranger warned us not to camp on top of the dunes due to intense wind and thunder storms, but being good camp counselors we ignored her advice and trudged our way up the unforgiving sand around midnight. That evening we hung for dear life onto our tents, gear, and each other as lightning and wind had its way all around us. All we had was friendship and beer to get us through. It was quite the bonding experience.

Back in the present, I finally made it to the local bar where all the camp people spend their nights off. Shouts of delight and happy embraces quickly followed. I spent the next hour smiling as I watched bad karaoke and talked with friends old and new about life’s ups and downs and our brand new ventures into the unknown. It wasn’t long before I settled right back into the routine, closing my eyes on the sacred ground of summer camp for the first time in a long time.

The next day seemed surreal – Waking up at camp; walking the dirt paths and gravel roads around tree houses and aspen groves; seeing the joy of kids running to meals and activities; the sun lighting it all up with a wink, almost saying “thanks for enjoying what I’ve made for you.”

I spent the morning showing my friend all the landmarks and beautiful sights around camp, probably enjoying it more than he was. There always seemed to be something new to be found around Sanborn, or at least a different way of looking at everything. And that, I guess, was when I finally understood about having a sense of wonder. I relished in the fact that, at least for now, I could find infinite beauty in anything; from the smallest leaf to the biggest mountain touching the sky. I, maybe for the first time, got it.

That evening, also for the first time, I got sunburned through my head while lounging at a local swimming hole. I also got extremely tired, but I was happy about it. I was happy because my body was worn out from long walks through trees and up rocks, from running up hills and spending hours in the sunlight. I was happy because for the first time in a long time, I was worn out physically but not mentally.

And that night, staring into the teeth of a fiery sky, I remembered a character from a movie I had recently seen; a Houston Oil executive who was ordered to buy up a scenic ocean town in the North hills of Scotland. I thought of the impact the country had on him, the transformation he went through, and the way he eventually begged to stay and become part of their simple existence by the sea. I shivered a bit. Not because I was cold, but because I had lost touch just like him.

But, then there I was again. Back with the air, the trees, and the stars; back with the wind in my face and the dream of a thousand summers in my heart.

On the airplane ride back, I thought of how it was a funny thing about memories; how some of them become stronger over time, weaving themselves in and out of your brain until they become part of your own personal lore. The best ones take on personalities of their own, refusing to be trapped away or chained by something as feeble as the truth. These are the stories that live on in our hearts; the ones that will make us tremble, cry, and laugh for the rest of our lives. And as I soaked and bathed in all my distant recollections, I realized that I hadn’t been taking a trip to Colorado at all. I had really just been going home.