Desire Lines

Prologue- December 2017 – Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The messages are frequent and insistent- my phone brrrings and lights up- “When are you coming home? When can I see you???” I close my eyes, pinch the bridge of my nose, and try to summon a breath before responding. “Soon,” is always the answer, or some version of it. Because it would be unkind for me, sitting here in my yard in Australia watching the lorikeets fight over fermented mango pulp in my neighbour’s tree to respond, “I AM home.”

I know what people mean, and I am excited to visit with family and friends in the United States, but it’s still hard to remind people that I never felt North Carolina to be “home” in the first place. I spent the majority of my life trying to escape that place, be it physically or through the use of (all the) substances. It is not home to me- it never was.

I was born there, left as soon as I could, returned against my will, was trapped there by circumstance, and became complacent over time. I resisted until I relented. It was like a creepy family member that you’d rather avoid, but since you’re dragged to the reunion, have to make nice with.

To be fair, none of the many places I lived in the US felt any more “right” than Durham did.  There were many that I preferred, but none that hit that button in my brain that triggers the warm, safe feeling people speak of when they talk about HOME. 

 

Desire Lines- January- Durham, North Carolina, USA

The term “desire line” or “desire path” is used in transportation planning and environmental design to describe the worn areas of earth where people (or animals) go off the designated roads or walkways to create a preferred path. As a frequent user-maker of these alternate routes, I often wonder how and why the paved ways were decided upon. I wonder who the others are who share my desire lines, as I rarely see another person traversing them with me.

I have always wandered, allowing my curiosity to guide me. Occasionally I take shortcuts, but prefer the long way around- which seems in some ways counterintuitive even to my own reckoning. I want to go where I think I want to go but often discover, on my way there, that I am compelled in another direction. Often, I find myself somewhere that I didn’t expect to be and wonder how I managed to get to such a place- but the answer is always that I simply wanted to “look around,” and ventured further than expected. I was never one to go half way. Never one to turn back. I’ve found many things, many places, situations, people. The results have been varied. I regret none of them.

The BLOX family landed in North Carolina just in time for the holidays. This was entirely by accident, more a result of circumstance than any planning on our part. I certainly would not have opted to arrive in the frigid weather conditions (“bomb cyclone icy death-ray machine of DOOM” or whatever hyperbolic label it’s been given by the media). We’re not big “winter holidays” (or summer, if you’re in OZ) people. We don’t decorate or drag drying foliage into the house: our December 25th meal is typically Chinese take-out. Not bothered by the trappings, it’s just not a thing for us. Certainly not something we would travel for. But, sometimes the paths we take are out of necessity rather than desire.

We have, in one conversation after another, had to explain why our desire line has led us to stay in Australia rather than back to here- this place where the label “home” was assigned to us by no choice of our own. Questions abound about our plans for the future and what we hope to get out of continued stay in the Pacific. For these, there are no answers. The truth is that we just opened ourselves to the path that opened to us, at a time when we were able to walk it.

 

Epilogue

I was walking through a semi-hidden park on the back underside of a neighbourhood by the railroad tracks last month. Behind a row of apartments, balconies strung with sagging laundry lines, there is a dense wooded area. A narrow path leads through eucalyptus trees to a shade-cloaked wooden bridge. Tiny birds hop through the underbrush and lizards dart between rocks and water, snatching up water sliders and backswimmers off the surface of the stream. “Barry,” the prolific tagger of this side of town, has graffiti-mopped his trademark on the handrail in laser yellow. The wooden slatted bridge leads out to a pea gravel path to a small playground. In October, the ground here will be littered with purple jacaranda blossoms, but now the air here is heavy with mock-orange and frangipani. A wisteria covered gazebo acts as an entrance on the far side of the park. Desire lines sprout off in several directions from the sidewalk under the archway.

I sat for some time on the swings of that playground, contemplating the nature of pathways and desire. A train rumbled by, slowing to pull into its station just up the way, where commuters and travellers would board or de-board as they moved along whatever paths were theirs for the day. It would be simple enough to have gotten on that train and taken the 30 minute trip to the coast. The same train, in the other direction could take me to the airport, another hour and I could be at the Southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. I often fantasise about all the places I could go, or could have gone, but tend ignore all that in the moments where I am actually in motion.

Instead of focusing so hard on what path I was told (and often internalised) I should take or have taken, I’ve found a way to make this wandering curiosity work its magic in taking me wherever it does. Sitting in that park, lolling on the swing beside the overgrown creek bed, I hadn’t yet planned to be in the States in January. But here I am.

And today I am sitting at the window of a cozy little kitchen, overlooking another stream. This one frozen near-solid. Stubborn remnants of the snowfall huddling in the shade, and patches of ice where the sun melted the flakes just enough to re-freeze them into slick patches. There are footprints of deer and rabbits, squirrels and chickadees around the bird feeder. The sun is just starting to go down, topping the naked tree branches with a golden hue as the lower layers of the forest slowly turn the lavender-black of night.

Two years ago, to the day, I was overlooking this same scene- saying “see you later.” Today I am here saying “goodbye.”

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