We stood in the hallway, making small talk. It was the last day of a mind-numbing class, the kind where you exit with a five-pound binder and a spinning brain. We talked a little bit about my move from Alaska. Then I asked him, "How long have you lived here?"
"Nine years," he said.
"That's a long time."
We looked at each other. There was that spark of recognition, when you meet a kindred soul.
"You have it too," he said. "The wanderlust."
I barely exchanged a dozen words with this man, but he could see it in me, and I could see it in him. There are still some of us out there, floating like planets.
For me it happened after college, when I was searching for meaning and a place to belong. I took seasonal jobs with the Park Service, loading up my Chevette with the few belongings I needed. Every six months I hit the highway, the interstates flowing through the country like rivers, delivering me to a new place. I loved almost everything about it, and still do: the first moment when your new home appears, the unknown range of mountains, the uncharted valleys. It's a little bit like falling in love: it all seems so perfect, so new, so unblemished.
But then something happens. You get old. Thirty, forty, beyond. It gets harder to pull up stakes, to leave people behind, to seek out new friends. Sometimes you want to be comfortable. To know what is beyond that ridge. To belong.
It's a dilemma I cannot resolve, a balance beam that I dance along by moving now every five to seven years. But sometimes that is not enough time for either thing. Not enough time to see everything in one place. Not enough time left to see everything else. And let's be honest here. To really be a wanderer means typically traveling alone. Inconveniently, you usually fall in love with someone who likes to stay put.
I've almost been here a year, nearly four seasons. My rambling days, I suspect, are far from over. But there is still plenty to discover. I haven't climbed Ruby Peak yet. The Minam River country is still a mystery. I can put it off for awhile longer.