I had an epiphany in Trader Joe’s the other day. Granted, it was early in the morning, and I probably hadn’t had enough coffee. But I don’t think these factors brought on my grocery-store revelation concerning the meaning of home, a concept that’s been as slippery as an eel for me since embarking on the sailing life.
We were back in Maryland seeing family and friends, making the annual round of doctors’ visits, and satisfying what had seemed to be a compelling need to go home for a while. Unlike other cruisers we’ve met, we don’t have a house on land anymore, but most of our tribe is within a two-hour driving radius of Annapolis. So we were staying with close friends and family, camping out in spare rooms and on couches while trying hard not to leave toothbrushes and underwear up and down the I-95 corridor. Osprey was safely tucked in for hurricane season on the Río Dulce in Guatemala. We’d been aboard for nearly two years, but we’d never left her for more than a week. When it came time to go, pulling away from her was harder than I’d expected.
But here I was on this sunny morning, back in my favorite grocery store. I never thought breakfast sausage could make me so happy; the kids loved this stuff, and it was still here! And Joe-Joe’s—when Kaeo sees these cookies, there’ll be a vacuum where this box is. I crooned over the smorgasbord of cheeses and felt an unreasonable joy while perusing the frozen-foods section. Suddenly, I felt completely comfortable in the past, walking those familiar aisles, seeing many of the same faces among the employees, picking out the goodies I admittedly had missed. Home, delicious home.
But then came a feeling as sharp as whiplash: What if we’d never left? All the miles we’d sailed, the places we’d been, the friends we’d made—never happened. Nothing had changed. We’d all stood still, me and these cookies and the hummus with horseradish and the nice woman (“Don’t I remember you?”) asking me if it was too early to sample a pork dumpling in sweet chili sauce. (No, it certainly wasn’t.) And along with this jumbled curry of thoughts came another on a wave of longing: I miss my boat and my life on her. I miss my home.
“When a traveler is far from home for a long time, after months or years, homesickness becomes as much a part of the topography as the mountains and all the lovely light,” writes Kevin Patterson in his memoir, The Water in Between: A Journey at Sea. This had seemed true enough. There were nights I’d wished for the trajectory of starlight, imagining those places and people it could reach and I couldn’t. But that morning in Trader Joe’s, amid the pretzels and blue-corn chips, I realized that home might be something more ephemeral than I’d understood it to be before.
The fact is, we’re never the same once we’ve left. We can come back and travel the same roads, see the same places, taste the same summer lushness in the sweet corn and tomatoes, and it can seem that maybe we didn’t have to leave anything behind after all. But we did. We left our old selves. And with every blue mile put between us and that skin we shed, the pain of that transition has lessened. The farther we’ve come, the more I learn that home is something more than a place, a memory, or a history. Perhaps it’s better defined as a time, that rare moment when one is perfectly connected with one’s surroundings and purpose.
I filled the shopping cart with all of that good stuff and thought of Osprey, waiting a world away. And out in the parking lot I lofted her a thought to fly on the hot summer breeze: Hang in there. We’ll be home soon.
Having left Maryland far behind, the Clarkes are back home again aboard Osprey_, ready for their next adventure in Central America._