Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
With no calculated intent beyond amassing them, I’ve always pursued experiences with far more focus than I’ve ever chased a dollar. I can’t carry either across the river of course. But when so blessed as to have the choice, I prefer to spend my time hoarding moments and sensations. I expect I will enjoy counting those in my final days more than I would reviewing balance sheets. I’ve never been any good at math anyway.
In pursuit of such, I’ve been blessed to set foot on five of the seven continents, reveling in the fullness of moments on each. I’ve seen day break underwater, fractured rays of gold stretching through the blue, tentatively at first, then with fiery authority, to bring coral to vibrant life. I’ve considered my insignificance while hovering next to a great blue whale that seemingly materialized next to me, then again crawling from a tent one morning to put my hand down next to the bear track left by the visitor kind enough not to wake me. A mile and a half above the desert floor, moon’s light crawling across the interior of a plane through a yawning tailgate, I left engine roar and whining hydraulics behind to gently corkscrew to earth under its pale glow.
It hasn’t all been natural splendor. Many times, I’ve considered the shape of shadows blending into the singularity of night before laying down to sleep in a rusted-out water tower at the base of Mt. Fuji, a deserted farmhouse in western Iraq, or a former Soviet morgue in Kandahar. There were nights I wondered if I would see the sun again. But I’ve also enjoyed five-star hotels in Warsaw, Cairo, and Phnom Penh. They are all moments that remind me of my place in the order of the world; of my fragile status as the world’s apex predator until conditions shift just a hair and I am no longer. Perhaps that shift will be enough that I simply no longer am. Good or bad, they are moments I carry close for those times I need to remember why I am here, and they leave me convicted I can’t spend the time I have left marshalling it. There’s an amazing world out there for the living and home is wherever you choose to make it.
But hometowns are a separate matter entirely.
I recently got to mine for one of my oldest friend’s fiftieth birthday. The drive to Athens, Georgia is always rich for someone equally gifted and cursed with a relentless nostalgia. Heading west from our home in the Cape Fear, where my ancestors first brought our blood to a place only just then named America, I exit soulless interstate well before the madness of the megalopolis my accent renders as “A’lanna”. Closer to Athens, rows of pine timber standing like troops in formation give way to the shaded riot of a hardwood canopy in spring. Sun-bleached and tar crazed roads increasingly roll and curve through forest and farms. I’ve been coming home, or leaving it, on those roads all my life. It’s a gentler, less frenetic experience than some I’ve had far from home and the comfort it brings means more than most of them.
It meant the world to see old friends. I met children turned to young adults. I talked turkey hunting with men I’ve known since I was in elementary school. I got a rare unhurried minute with my mother. But the height of pleasure was watching my brother run the bar he manages. There are fifteen years between us, enough that I am old enough to worry about him simply because he’s my younger brother. Watching him in his element, I saw that he is good at what he does and that what he does is good. The people there like working for him and made a point of telling me. It’s another moment that will last.
Riding back to the Tar Heel State, I got a brief lift of the head from my drowsy Lab pup, Jed, when I maxed out the speakers in my truck with Drivin N Cryin’s “Honeysuckle Blue.” It’s a song by a Wisconsin transplant about the impulse to send a homeless boy from New York City to Georgia just so he could see it. It’s one I feel as much as I hear.
“Have you ever seen the
Blue Ridge Mountains boy
Or the Chattahoochee
To the Honeysuckle Blue”
Lord yes, I have. Ironically, given the band’s name, when played at a volume that demands I stomp my feet on my truck floor, as drums and guitars crash in syncopation, it never fails to cause a thickening in my throat and send tears rolling down my cheeks. I don’t really know why. No matter, my feet are too stained with red clay to be embarrassed by it.
My family has chosen a home where we can smell marsh mud and salt on the breeze and we dearly love it. But I feel as if my hometown chose me. Visiting leaves me with the wish that everyone in this world could have a place, or places, they love so much it brings them to tears. If you don’t, I truly hope you find it. It’s mostly free but I reckon it’s worth everything.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe