When I was planning this trip, I often pictured myself walking along a coastal, rocky path. I wanted to look at the sea and the sky and feel peaceful. I wanted to feel something other than the grim determination or deep sadness and humiliation with which I’ve struggled for the past year. New sights, new sounds. New adventures to fill up my mind. I sensed that in going far away, I could shake the last of my doldrums and get back to being a brighter, energetic self once again.
That has happened, though I’m getting ahead of myself by saying so.
But what has surprised me along the way is the appearance of so many varied moods and reactions to travel. You always think it’s going to be blissful, relaxed, and energizing. And it is. Sometimes. But travel is not the panacea I thought it would be. There’s that old saying “No matter where you go, there you are!” I find it to be very true. My mind’s thought processes have traveled with me. My heart’s longings as well. Travel has given them new experiences to which they can react. Moods appear and come to the foreground and rule my moments and then fade away just as they do at home. Traveling alone means there are few distractions to keep them at bay. Even if the day is busy, full of work and people, at night and in the morning, it’s just me crawling into and out of that bed. And on trains, in hotel rooms and on breaks during the day, I inevitably return to my own thoughts to face what is there.
I’ve been surprised by these moods. Don’t know why exactly. I usually do feel a lot of different feelings and am impacted deeply by them. But since the moods have come along on the journey, I’ve tried to make a place for them to hang out. I feel them rise. I note their presence. If they are unpleasant, I don’t try to to make them go away as I did at first. (“Why am I feeling this way? This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t feel this way and I’m going to make this feeling go away right now.”) Interestingly, I’ve noticed a pattern to them. Intense moods and feelings tend to come up when I’m about to have a realization of some sort. It’s as if my body and my emotions are forcing me to address something that consciously I’d rather not deal with right now. But they make me do it. I can fight the process or accept it. Usually I do the first, then grudgingly slip into the second. I think I’m getting to the acceptance part more quickly now than at the beginning of the trip.
Homesickness. I felt an intense stab of homesickness right in the first week of the trip. I was still with the tour group. We were in the Cotswolds. All was well. Fantastic, even! And then someone confronted me over a misunderstanding and my joyful exuberance disappeared like air out of a balloon not tied. I rode in the van feeling deeply homesick. My gut hurt from it. For all the world, I wished to be home at that moment. “Home?!?” I chastised myself, “Home?!?! Here you are on this fantastic trip and you feel homesick?!?! Oh, and by the way, you don’t even have a home to be homesick FOR!”
But I was. Homesick. Undeniably, absolutely and even desperately.
I’ve felt it again since then, many times over on this trip. Not for long periods of time. Just for brief, intense minutes. And then the feelings pass. But their recurrence begs the question: How can I be homesick when I don’t have a home to be homesick for? There’s no bedroom anymore, with dog and cat curled up by my side for a snooze. There’s no courtyard or front porch where I can sit and watch the birds while having my morning coffee. In fact, there’s been no such home since the turn of the year. My “stuff” is in a 10′ x 10′ concrete room, stacked floor to ceiling and gathering dust. I have nowhere to make a nice meal and offer it up to my friends. I have no home! What exactly does that deep, mournful stab of discontent signify then?
My guess is this. Home is a place, yes. But even without an actual”place” to miss, I find myself longing for the state of being I experience when there. It’s where I find respite from the world when it all gets to be a bit too much. Home is familiarity and comfort. It is favorite books on my shelf and the flowers I’ve been nurturing in the garden all these years. Not the actual books or the actual flowers but rather the feeling I experience when I see them. It’s the knowledge that comfort is a phone call, brief drive or short walk away. It’s where I don’t have to be anything other than myself, ever. It’s where I am absolutely safe. It’s where the love I give out to the world is sure to find me, especially when I need it most. I’ve long thought of my home as a place, a physical setting. But now I’ve learned how much it’s also all the intangibles I just mentioned. “Homeless” does not mean homesicknessless. (Yep, made that word up, just now.) Homesick is longing for what home represents. And periodically, I find it surfaces as my heart’s strongest desire.
Resistance. Even in the midst of activities I enjoy, people who are kind to me, and adventures ahead, I have often encountered a strange, stubborn voice inside saying “I don’t wanna!” As in “I don’t wanna getup”, “I don’t wanna hike”, “I don’t wanna work”, “I don’t wanna have to do this”. I feel it most strongly in the mornings, when I should be getting out of bed.
Now here’s a mood I often encounter at home. Not as much these days as when I was younger, true. I felt it all the time in my twenties. Less so in my thirties. Even less in my forties. Now I only feel it occasionally, when the list of things to do that day or the social engagements and events of the weekend pile up and I fear I’ll be without any time to just exist and enjoy. So what the heck is that feeling about when I’m on a trip like this?
Still working on an answer. I suspect it’s a natural, human response to requirements that are made by outside forces and not necessarily by your own decisions. If someone has control over you then you can only counter it with resistance — if you are going to counter at all. Or acquiescence. Just thought of that this moment! I’ve offered myself as a working hand in exchange for room and board. It’s been my choice. I’ve decided to hike and to travel and to have to spend hours online figuring out train schedules. These things were of my own choosing. So… Resistance. Hmmmm.
If I find it such a surprise then perhaps my life has been much more in my own control of late than I’d realized. Anyway, happy to hear your thoughts on this one.
Exultation Wow. This is a great one. I experienced a HUGE sweep of it that first day hiking in the Cotswolds, when I looked around and saw rolling green hills and sheep and buildings that looked straight out of a BBC costume drama. “Oh my gosh, I actually DID it! I’m in England!” I remember that my calves hurt that morning but I don’t know why, since I’m unsure whether my feet touched the ground at all. I experienced the same, giddy joy traveling around Glasgow on the top of an open-air bus. Ditto walking one afternoon to gather flowers for a barn dance. And again, walking over the spine of this peninsula at the far northwestern edge of the country.
It’s almost frightening, the exultation. It’s so intense and good. Eek, is it like drugs and I’ll need to generate more and more of it just to survive?!?! Well, I hope I can enjoy exultation for recreational purposes only and not become an addict. Drugs (and I include alcohol and chocolate here) and that kind of exultation can be very expensive.
But they are really great once in a while.
Fear. Self explanatory. You wouldn’t believe how often It has surfaced on this trip. I don’t think of myself as a fearful person. But walk five steps (or 5000 miles) out of your comfort zone and watch how frequently you find yourself having to mitigate its presence. I did. All the time.
Quiet Here’s a beautiful illustration of this feeling, from an afternoon’s notes at Castle Creavie. My mind went blissfully, thankfully quiet many times over on this trip.
Amazingly, it’s the middle of the day and I’m sitting outside and writing on a wooden table under a blue sky and NOT melting from pummeling heat. Clouds drift by overhead. Occasionally the sun goes behind one. All I hear is the drone of nearby bees, birds, and the occasional bleat of a lamb or its mother’s answering call. This is such a peaceful place. Beautiful. Gentle. The hills roll gently, the hosts are gentle and engaging, the work is hard but brief and then the body is gentled with good food and good rest. I feel so quiet here. There is nothing that needs doing or figuring out. I feel, for the first time on this trip, like I can rest.
Loneliness I know people worried about my traveling alone. I was never sure if it was concern over my safety or concern over whether I would feel alone and lonely. Probably both. But I’ve not felt lonely most of the time. I’ve been exceedingly UNlonely, in fact. I’ve really enjoyed being on my own.
Here’s something strange though… I did feel lonely when I saw people together — people who really enjoyed and cared about each other. Those were the times I was reminded of the absence of my own loved ones and my connection with them. The night before the big ceileig at Castle Creavie, about twenty friends and family gathered at the pond for a barbecue. Well, you can bet I felt a big wave of loneliness then. “Don’t know these people. They all know each other and are glad to be together. Where are the people that know me and are glad to be with me???” And when I first arrived at Scoraig, Lisa’s house was full of WWOOFers who had been working together for weeks and were about to head off to new farms. You could feel their friendship like it was mist in the air between us all. I’d felt fine the previous day traveling to Inverness and exploring the town by myself. But the moment I walked into Lisa’s house and felt the air of love there, I felt deeply lonely for the kitchen at Castle Creavie and the companions I’d left so recently. News of my grandmother’s death had me thinking of my family as well. I didn’t fare so well my first day on Scoraig, believe me. (Don’t worry. The lovely community on Scoraig has taken me under its wings and I’m being well looked after!) And You can bet I was lonely for my hiking group. Didn’t feel it when I was hiding out during my housesit in Birmingham. But once I was in Glasgow, surrounded by families and coworkers and groups of visitors going here and there, I sure wished I had them all there with me again. You can laugh hysterically when you are by yourself, but people look at you funny. MUCH better to do so with a group of devil-may-care adventuring ladies!
So loneliness has not been a constant companion. It’s not dogged me the way it might have if I’d been wishing for a travel companion or a loving partner alongside me. Instead it has arisen in short spurts to remind me of the people I love. They are out there. I’m not with them now. But I will be. Or, if I might not see them again, then I can be thankful to feel lonely for them. It means there’s a little bit of me still with them and vice versa.
Gosh, there have been many more moods than the ones mentioned here. Frustration, definitely. Carefree-ness. Exhaustion. Enthusiasm. Enjoyment. Introspection. Annoyance. Self-consciousness. Gaiety.
I could just keep writing!!! But I have to go water the polytunnel, feed the quails and chickens, and fire up the stove so I have hot water for a bath. How did I get from sheep shearing to a wind, wood and solar powered croft on a rainy peninsula? I have the next few days to catch you up. And then you know what?
I’m coming home.