Some years ago – it’s staggering, actually, how many years ago now – I walked this track and knew I was soon to leave. Soon enough anyway. Once you’ve set your mind on a departure, it doesn’t matter how many months in advance you’ve made the decision – it’s soon enough. You’re leaving.
Before I left, though, with that one-way ticket printed and pressed into a pocket, I invented scenes in which I imagined coming home. These scenes were improvised as I walked around paths through forests on the edge of town. Short stanzas of poetry rose alongside them. There was something that I’d intuited, even though I was such a young man. What I had precociously figured out was that homecoming was going to be the most treasured sensation of them all.
I think I predicted it all. Arriving like an apparition at my mother’s door. The smell of jasmine around the home I’d rented once previously. The old friend who’d open her eyes wide and say holy shit you’re here. The other mate who’d grin and offer only a laconic, well-worn locution. Here he is.
I knew I would walk into my local pub alone and find a friend who hadn’t thought of me for a while. But most of all I knew I would come back to the track above the river, where stones stood as pillars over streams glutted with willows, spring flowers profuse in the scrub. I could prognosticate all this because already, in my early twenties, I knew this was home.
I didn’t realise how often I would do this. One merry day towards the close of winter – or indeed well after it, a couple of times – I would be brought back to land on the tarmac of Launceston Airport. During the descent I crane my neck towards the portholes, to pick out the landmarks. There might be a wry feeling about driving on the left-hand side of the road. I already have trips planned throughout the unravelling routes of the island. There are places I will go in the next few days.
A fortnight ago I returned again, but I had left Launceston that same afternoon. I had a room to which I would return, somewhere out of town – the first time in ten years that I’ve had something to come back to. I had a cup of tea with both of my parents at their respective homes, bought a few little books from the op-shop in their neighbourhood, and drove west. Restless weather rode with me. A very sheer but impenetrable white veil hung over the panorama of a mountain range. A green rosella rose up from its snack in the grass.
The specific co-ordinates of a home may seem to move around. But in fact I think I have made my home within a set of relationships; each of the relationships may shift slightly with the passing of years, but I still keep in touch with all of them. I am held in their midst.
Today I woke up with a mild hangover, in a house very near to the forests I have traipsed for many years. I quickly took leave of the previous evening’s companions, and, in a pair of well-worn leather shoes I once bought in the desert plains of Mexico, I stepped out a muddy route towards tracks that have proved to be starting-point of so many of my dreams. Once again I thought of later departures, and returns; and in doing so I forced myself to investigate the tricky questions in the darker corners of myself.
I walked towards a brick-and-bluestone cottage to have a coffee brewed for me, to watch new holland honeyeaters hop about in the banksias. To have the hangover lose its edge in the wan sunshine, while more potent mood came over me: one in which all my queries about myself congealed into a quite certainty that this strange tangle of kith and kin, with plants and animals and walking tracks and old mates, is what I have sought from the very first moment I began to envision journeys.
It is not surprising any more – there is nothing that is more normal – that this is still happening. That this is the most important substance of my life.
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