Coming home can be a return to paradise

There's a new red house at the top of the slope of land that stretches down to the lake. It sits rather proudly among the trees. Driving down the road it appears between them in a bold slash of colour.

There’s a new red house at the top of the slope of land that stretches down to the lake.

It sits rather proudly among the trees. Driving down the road it appears between them in a bold slash of colour. The shutters are a cool blue and there’s enough white trim to make an eye-catching display. It has a maritime look but here in the mountains it assumes a rustic cabin feel.

It’s our house actually, albeit with a spanking new paint job. We worked at it with the help of a neighbour whenever the unpredictable spring weather allowed. Now, after three weeks, it’s finished. I put a coat of masonry paint on the foundation, painted the garden shed to match and then we both stood back to admire it.

You can accomplish one heck of a lot with a coat of paint. Our little house is altered completely.

Standing there in the yard, holding hands, with no need to speak, we both loved the feel of a place you’ve put your hands to, dirtied them, stained them, worked to create ambience and atmosphere. A home. I don’t know if there’s a better feeling except perhaps the love that initiates the work.

I don’t travel well. I’ve discovered this over the past few years and more recently in the last week. I get called out all the time to speak at conferences, run workshops, do readings or lecture at universities. Most trips are only a few days but even those become arduous, grinding journeys.

We were gone two days this time and I couldn’t wait to get home. I guess I’ve just become a homebody.

It wasn’t all that long ago, really, when my life was like a sappy country song. I was on the road again, looking at the world through a windshield, as that old truck driving song goes. The old white line fever was raging and home was always just over the horizon. I used to believe for a long time that my life was always going to be about moving on.

I remember hitchhiking in my late teens. It always seemed to be summer and I was young and largely carefree. I could hit the road at the drop of a hat and I often did. There were hostels then, in the early 1970s, where other kings of the road would gather and I remember times of sharing drinks and a few guitar songs around a fire. It was awesome to be that young and that free.

Later, after a stream of changes, I hit the road a lot as a reporter and a documentary producer. Those days were marked by a rampant curiosity. I was a journalist and there were issues and questions and ideas that I loved to investigate and being on the road wasn’t a chore then. It was like being called forward to something greater and unknown and I travelled with expectation.

Then sometime around the time I met my life partner; the road became a burden. My publishing career was taking off and the books were gathering strong attention across the country but I never wanted to be anywhere but home. We lived in a condo on a busy street in a big city then but it was redolent with the feeling of home. When we moved to the mountains, that feeling grew stronger, more pervasive.

Some days I think that it’s all about age. I’m 53 now and these old rambling bones have grown more attached to languishing on the deck or in front of the fire than counting miles. I don’t eat very well when I travel and I can’t seem to relax enough to read. I get ornery in airports and I grumble a lot. Only when I’m home do I feel right.

Maybe, in the end, it’s just about time. There’s a quality to it that’s elusive, something akin to magic but less immediate, more like a gradual evolution than a sleight of hand. You’re just different. You’re altered and you realize that time is a commodity, really. You come to know that when you get to be this age; that time, as a stuff, can be wasted or it can be invested. I want to invest mine in the feeling of home.

That’s funny because I’m from a nomadic culture. I keep trying to tell myself that but it doesn’t up so well anymore. You’re a hunter-gatherer for Pete’s sake. You’re supposed to be out and loose upon the land, telling stories around a crackling fire by a lake somewhere. Home fires. They’re the only ones I care to see anymore and you can call me an old coot but I’ve never found a five-star joint that feels as good as home.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at richardwagamese@yahoo.com

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