It was a cold still afternoon with a hard steely sky overhead, when [Mole] slipped out of the warm parlour into the open air. The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him…. He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.
– from “The Wild Wood,” The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Now that I’m back home in North Carolina, my daily commute is for the most part a solitary drive through the country, past open fields and subrural clusters of homes, across small old bridges over gentle creeks. I count four country churches; an abandoned store with a tree growing inside, visible through the uncracked front window; a goat farm; a llama farm. All of this—road, meadow, churchyard, farm—is stitched together by patches and borders of tall gray-boned trees, whose upper branches catch the last clear light in the late afternoon sky. I love those trees. Seeing them makes me feel like Mole as he prepares to enter the Wild Wood.
I feel a lot like Mole, in general.
At the very beginning of The Wind in the Willows, Mole leaves his home because he’s anxious to see the sunshine, to breathe fresh air, and–let’s be honest–to ditch the spring-cleaning. But one cold winter night he feels the pull of home again:
It was one of those mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal…. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had captured it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood.
Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!
— from “Dulce Domum,” The Wind in the Willows
When I lived in Florida, I would visit North Carolina, but at some point I always had to leave and return to my house in Jacksonville Beach. It was about a 9-hour drive, mostly on interstate 95. From the moment I passed South of the Border, I began to feel heartsick. (Of course, if you’re familiar with South of the Border, you will understand that there were sound reasons for feeling ill.) The closer I got to Florida, the heavier my heart became. I knew I wasn’t really going home. Almost every time I made that trip back, I had the feeling that I might as well take any exit, at any point of the trip. I would just go ahead and exit, I thought, and drive into a neighborhood and walk into the first house with an unlocked front door. It would be not so very different, after all, from continuing on to the unlighted coquina house in Jax Beach, and it would have the advantage of making my trip shorter. (And wouldn’t the residents of that unlocked house be surprised? And pleased!)
Once I got to the coquina house, I soon got over my homesickness and settled back into my routine, and was comfortable and, after a day or two, happy. But it wasn’t a place I yearned to be, nor did I ever feel pulled toward it.
So it’s very nice to be back in North Carolina.
Now, as I drive home from work, I cross the bridges and pass the goats and avoid hitting deer and smell the woodsmoke from someone’s chimney and I feel warmed by that fire, cheered by the lights in the windows that I pass as I get closer to Redbud Lane. It’s not just that I feel pulled back to the little brick house where Ernesto is waiting and the lights are on.
It’s because, even before I get to the house, I know that I am already home.
Where is home, for you?