Recently, a fellow writer suggested that I try to dig at the root of what has made me a traveler.
Where did I get my love of the outdoors? How did I become a wanderer?
As I have explored these questions through scribbles in notebooks and looked for answers to why I mark the calendar months by where we are off to next, I began to acknowledge, not surprisingly, that my wandering feet are a gift from my dad.
Since I left home many years ago, my parents have wandered far and wide over this great big globe, but my childhood was made up shorter escapes, mostly in and around Arkansas. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway, bound for the city limits, my cares started to fly quickly out the rolled down windows. Whether we were barreling down a curvy road to Newton County in the Ozarks or headed south to the shores of Lake Ouachita, the sweet relief of being away was a regular occurrence in our house.
Simple times of being outside for even just a night or two are some of my most treasured childhood memories.
Hey, Alison, can you miss school this Wednesday? There’s a full moon on Tuesday night.
Daddy and I regularly conspired to run over to the lake in the middle of the week. He would move meetings around and I would turn in assignments early. The empty parking lot at the boat dock was our reward for avoiding the weekend, and when we pulled out onto the water, Daddy would tell me to pick any island I wanted to camp on, because all our favorites would be available.
When the boat engine revved up loud to pick up speed after the no-wake zone of the docks, my heart would quiet.
I would breathe deeply of clean lake air, sitting in the front of the boat with my face to the sun and the wind in my hair.
On the island, Daddy would build a fire and set up camp. I’d chop whatever he had brought, onions and potatoes to be fried in a skillet or steak for fajitas. After dinner, Daddy would pull out his guitar and sing until the fire got low. I’d sing along or just sit and listen, letting the music fill my heart and sweep away the worries about school and life back home.
We would fall asleep in the boat, underneath the full moon.
I would wake to find Daddy in his lawn chair on the lakeshore, reading his Bible and whatever books he’d brought along. He would make illegible notes on little half sheets of paper for Sunday’s sermons.
There’s still hot coffee in the pot.
I’d crawl out of bed, and he would pause to have another cup with me. We’d eat eggs or maybe heat up whatever steak was leftover from the night before.
Then he would go back to his reading and praying and note-taking while I read a novel in the sun. Sometimes he would ask me a question that I would later recognize as I listened to him from my church pew. His stories and messages took shape in those hours of quiet and I am struck by the thought that his getting away was essential to the process of having something to say. Maybe in order to speak from the deeper places, we have to seek the stillness.
Before we packed up camp, we might fit in a quick slalom behind the boat.
There would be a stop for ice cream on the way home.
We’d get back in time for dinner.
I’d return to school on Thursday sun-kissed and ready to face the world again. As the following days pushed up against me, I would hold to the peace of my sweet escape to the lake. I could close my eyes and remember the water lapping the side of the boat as I slept, rocking me like a baby. Then the taunts of teenage boys and the ridiculous pressure to be perfect would remain a safe arm’s length away. High school faded into the background, eclipsed by a full moon and a perfect arc of spray off a water ski.