I’ve had to travel four of the last five weeks, so that by Friday I was feeling thin, as Bilbo Baggins claimed, like butter stretched over too much toast. Traveling like that leaves me muddle-headed, and not in the good way. Some of you know what I mean about a good muddle-headedness — you get it when your thoughts are focused on a project, or a dream you have had, or a beautiful scene in the novel you are writing. People speak but you only partly hear them, bugs bite but you don’t notice, you forget what speed you are traveling on the highway. I didn’t say that good muddle-headedness wasn’t dangerous, did I? But so are most things worth experiencing.
Then there is the bad muddle-headedness, which is what I get sometimes when I travel. It’s the feeling of being shot out of a cannon, so that every field you darken and every cloud you scatter on your journey is a physical reminder that you are out of place, that it is only your thin skin that holds everything inside you. It’s lying exhausted on a hotel bed unable to sleep, and the nightmares that come when you do sleep, and the feeling, when that alien sun penetrates your eyelids, that your soul has gone slantways, and won’t ever be right again.
Or maybe it’s just me.
I always feel like the prodigal son when I come home, welcomed though I don’t deserve it, and amazed that I could ever have felt disconnected from the earth when I have this woman and these little ones waiting for me there. It reminds me that I am just water and faint breath and the thinnest spirit, even though to them I am Husband, and Daddy.
And so yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day. They gave me (in no particular order, though you can probably guess which I liked the most):
Augustine’s Confessions (Everyman’s Library edition, of course)
a Library of America edition of James Agee’s film criticism
Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas CD collection
the Twister DVD
a cowboy hat
To top it off, a good friend loaned me his 20 hp Kubota tractor, replete with belly deck, tiller, and grader, until I get my feet wet (metaphorically speaking — if I actually get them wet it means I took the tractor on too step an angle near the creek, in which case stop reading this and come get me out). This involved borrowing another friend’s trailer, which was located at a third friend’s spread, and then maneuvering the whole 4,000 pound rig on back country roads, on account of our not exactly being street legal, what with the lack of lights and chains on the hitch and so on.
And this is how you know God has a sense of humor. We moved all this heavy equipment without so much as a scratch to my truck, and then, as an afterthought, my friend suggested I take an old dead Christmas tree for my pond (it gives shelter to the smaller fish). I strapped it in, but botched the job. Halfway home it flipped over the back before the straps locked it tight, so that its trunk pressed a three-foot dent into my tailgate, mangling the latch.
The thing is, though, I’ll take a busted tailgate over leaving home any day of the week, and twice, as it turns out, on Sundays. I used to feel guilty over never having slouched around Paris, or speared fish in Fiji. I suppose those things will be nice should they come my way. But for now, there’s plenty of adventure right here on the home spread. And from the way I feel when these babies and this woman crowd onto our big bed and burrow themselves into my chest, as if I am the Christmas tree and they the little fish, I can’t imagine any place more suited to who I am, or more importantly, who I am supposed to be.