On Home

We are all born for somewhere else, I think. While we all have a sense of place coded deep within our DNA, a source of conflict and anger to be sure but also something that gives a tremendous sense of meaning – we also all have a doppelganger land that constantly calls out to us, a beacon to somewhere long lost or not yet discovered. It is that, which makes our feet itch and our imaginations run wild. That keeps us looking through used travel books and flicking through blogs on somewhere else. Each place, another life, another opportunity, another chance to find that sense of peace that answers the question “Am I home?”

I think for my wife, who is from Latin America – the answer is Africa. I took her there, fifteen years ago for the first time, Uganda specifically and it resonated with her. The colors and the chaos, the music. The Caribbean and Central Africa, perhaps they define the poles of her personality. I never really liked Africa. It was fine for a season; I have good friends and did meaningful work. But I don’t miss it and if I never went back, that would be OK.

I spend my time, these days, ping-ponging in my imagination between two places: my deep Arizona deserts, and my Armenian highlands. Arizona, where I was born. Tombstone and Bisbee and the crisp Flagstaff winters. Tiny families of quail running after each other in the warm Arizona mornings; a road runner zipping across the gravel path as I hike, before the thick desert sun is lain like a blanket forcing flight indoors. The smell of it, clean and sterile with a hint of cows; the big sky and the freedom and the sense of standing alone. That, and Armenia. Until I got to Armenia, I did not consider it. I had not even heard of Yerevan. Yerevan, that ancient town older than Rome, layers upon layers built one atop the other. An opera house in the center; soviet apartment blocks; ancient monasteries. High mountains silent except for the sheep and their minders; the buzzing of bees in the orchards, peaches and apricots and cherries. Silk road history that resonates, that still vibrates with a thousand years of commerce, of stories, of intrigue and some violence.


Now I think of her quite a lot; at my desk or while vacuuming, when doing things I know must be done but that don’t fill me, don’t quite answer the yearning in my heart for significance.

Significance is such a personal thing. Some people are placid like a deep lake between forested mountainsides; some are like a raging river cold with the runoff from the spring melting; while others are shallow and transparent like a bubbling brook emerging clean from somewhere underground. We are all different; and we find significance through different sources. The possibility of a chance encounter; the danger of new discovery; Shangri-La or Shambala where we can at last find rest. It is why we travel, I think; why we pack our families into our cars and head out for the open road.

I was accused in my youth of being dissatisfied. Even my wife, the one who loves Africa, told me time and again “You bring your dissatisfaction with you; and you make peace in your heart no matter where you go!” That was before I got to Armenia. Joke’s on her, I suppose. Because she was wrong; at least for me. I know what home is, a starry desert night sky and a winter snowstorm across the wild south Caucasus mountains.

And I go in peace.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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