The Voyage Home

IMG_4522Recently, there was an autumn sunrise that took me completely by surprise. Granted, the sun comes up every morning whether or not I’m there to see it, but there was something in the way the light played across the few clouds drifting in the half-lit morning sky that struck a chord in me. No… maybe it’d be more fitting to say those fingers of dawn graced across the strings of my consciousness, slowly but surely awakening all of them into sympathetic vibration — reverberating a familiar sound, a harmony bringing me back to a simpler place and time.

There I was, maybe about nine years old, standing on the hand-made dock beside my grandfather as he prepared the boat, overlooking the darkened waters of the canal as an autumn morning slowly arrived. The canal, dark and murky, was slowly changing from mirrored, silvery shimmers of half-light to reflected golden ripples of morning.

swamp

I remember this day, now. Paw Paw and I had planned it for some time. It all began when the two of us were talking about the rivers and where each led. South Louisiana — streaked by an extensive network of rivers and canals — nearly resembles a map of the human nervous system, countless intersections and pathways going here and there in a seemingly random fashion. He happened to mention that the canal in front of his house could lead you to the creek behind my family’s home. Never one to disagree with my grandfather (at least not openly), I must’ve at least worn a skeptical expression. My skepticism immediately got his wheels to turning — he was drawing the map in his head.

Paw Paw, though a very practical man, was always willing to indulge me and my brothers’ curiosities when it came to subjects that interested him personally. For IMG_0001instance, when I wanted to build a “cable swing” (basically a big basket with a seat that moved via a pulley system along a cable strung between two distant trees). He was intrigued by my idea since he’d worked for years in the construction business, building highways along the bayous. Instead of poo-pooing my idea (which I’d sloppily drawn for him on a sheet of notebook paper — right down to the necessary detail of a stick man riding inside the little basket), he brought me to the shed where he kept his tools and we discussed how to “invent” my drawing. In one weekend’s time, my creation was birthed and my brothers and I were the envy of the neighborhood kids — gliding from one end of the property to the other on a suspended cable car. Such high-tech fun!

But, I digress. This was to be yet another of those adventurous days. He was going to pile me and my brothers into the boat and show us that his house on Owl Bayou was connected to our house on Lizard Creek by water. A voyage!

I should tell you that this particular trip over land would take about 35 minutes, the roads dodging and crossing rivers, lakes, and swamp in a meandering fashion. By boat at a slower pace, it was going to take about 4 hours! We’d stocked the boat with an extra fuel tank and IMG_2786Maw Maw had given us all sorts of rations to snack on along the way. Even though we were going home — a place we’d been hundreds of times — it felt like we were explorers embarking on a grand expedition.

To this day, I’m not sure how Paw Paw navigated that route. Many of those connecting “rivers” and bayous are not mapped — there’d be no need to since they’re scarcely populated or even traveled (at least by humans). The route was likely all from his memory — he’d memorized this vast network of swampland over decades of living and working in it. We rode along, the sound of the motor quietly rumbling behind us, knowing that we were seeing things you could only see by water. Eventually, we’d come to a divide in the bank, shrouded by trees and overgrowth. He’d unexpectedly slow down, turn our boat toward it, and we’d venture down a narrow, watery path I was certain no one could’ve known existed.

Our voyage was full of moments just like that — each turn a secret passage only he knew. There were no signposts, no warnings or advisories… just waterways leading to waterways, muddy banks lined with cypress trees and knobby cypress knees eventually giving way to sandy banks IMG_1453dotted with oak, pine, and maple. Eventually, we passed under a bridge that looked vaguely familiar to me (it was the bridge we crossed over on the school bus every morning). I gasped! Then, just a few minutes later, we rounded a bend in the river and I saw a very familiar hill rising up from the bank. Could it be? Paw Paw chuckled.

My brothers and I had never seen home from this angle before. Years of standing on the banks and looking out over the still waters of Lizard Creek did nothing to prepare us for the sight of the same bank from the water. He tied the boat to a tree and we piled out onto dry land. Home at last.

I often wonder if my grandfather knew that this one day would have such an effect on me. When I went to bed that night, I was still reeling from the sights and events of the day. I was so excited to get to school the next day to tell my classmates about our voyage. As memory serves, they found it much less fascinating than I’d hoped. Any story about journeying to faraway, exotic places surely outshone mine. All we had done was find our way home. Big deal!

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And so, just recently, as I saw the autumn sun casting that familiar light across the sky above our familiar, old apartment building, I felt that inexplicable rush of excitement. Standing on the balcony that I’ve called home for the past four years, I was again seeing home as if for the first time. I was seeing it, trying to pull it in with all of my senses, trying to memorize it since it will soon be changing. James and I have finally found a new home.

Instead of finding home by steering our boat down uncharted rivers and bayous, James and I found home a different way: by dreaming of it together — though it could be argued both ways are similar. But this time, instead of arriving at the old, familiar home and seeing it in a new light, the autumn dawn is shining on a new home — one that has yet to be filled with our memories, hopes, and love. A new home… same thyme, different place.

Standing Outside #5

I’ll be living in those landscape portraits I used to daydream over. I’ll have the apple trees I used to tell Maw Maw Patsy I wanted when she sliced up a golden delicious apple for me. I’ll have a few pear trees for Paw Paw Bryant, remembering how he climbed them like a monkey to pick ripe pears. I’ll have a vegetable garden for Paw Paw Willie. I’ll have a pantry full of canned goodies that would make all of my great-grandparents proud. We’ll have woods — deep, dark, and hilly — where I’ll make trails to thrill my little nieces and to give James and I a place to walk every morning before starting work. My life will be the four seasons right outside our windows rather than dreams of faraway places. I’ll live every part of every one of them… and maybe then I’ll feel I’ve come close to being grateful enough. — October 28, 2011

Grand Southern View #1Grand Southern View #2

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~ by Jason on November 7, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Voyage Home”

  1. That day I remember well. I also remember the cable swing. I had one as a child also, it was fun.

    I’m glad I have good memories of the place you and James lived in IL. It will be remembered as long as I can remember. Lol Yes, I can’t wait to see the new home and make memories there, I’m sure your grandparents that have passed on will be right there — maw maw Patsy in the kitchen where she loved to be with you and paw paw Willie in that garden where you both love to be. I can’t wait… two weeks I’ll be walking on that new property! Love mom

  2. What great writing, memories, and vision! You are so poetic– the fingers of dawn– and I love your “vision” at the end of your post.

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