“Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”
So reads the self-penned epitaph of Robert Louis Stevenson. It is carved on his gravestone at Vailima in Samoa where Stevenson lived from 1890 until his death in 1893. The Samoans called him Tusitala which means “writer of tales.”
In my own way, in this blog, I have tried to be a “writer of tales.” The stories are mostly true or as true as my failing memory can render the events about which I have thus far written. I have not even changed the names to protect the innocent.
I read Stevenson’s epitaph as recognizing the struggle of travel. Stevenson was, of course, a world traveler well acquainted with the rigors of travel on sea and on land. The sailor’s life in Stevenson’s time, even now, was a hard life on an unforgiving sea. The hunter’s quarry is often elusive and difficult to track, yet the hunter needs to provide. But now, rest at last is their due and we all know where the paths of glory lead, do we not.
Was my trip so very burdensome that I am reduced to quoting epitaphs as I sit recuperating in my familiar and beloved bunker at Stately Johnson Manor South? I suppose not, although schlepping 50+ pounds of luggage through caverns measureless to man that masquerade as the Toronto and Heathrow airports, as well as the “Tube” from Heathrow to Kings Cross Station, the train to Cambridge (and then reverse the trip) is backbreaking and bone grinding as far as I am concerned. Walking the narrow, cobbled, and uneven streets of Cambridge with knees that are aged and protesting tested my mettle as much as my mettle has been tested lately. But I steeled myself to the moment by recalling the words of another of my favorite travel writers, George Kennan, the American adventurer famous for his explorations in the Kamchatka and Caucasus regions of Russia in the 1860s and 1870s. Kennan wrote that the Caucasian mountaineers say that heroism “is endurance for one moment more.” So I kept on truckin’ for one moment more, muttering under my breath, “feets don’t fail me now,” and eventually, Dennis Ryan and I arrived at our various destinations.
And then we were back in the good old USA. And then I was boarding a plane to Detroit headed eventually to Madison. I believe whatever gods may be took some pity on me after testing me so severely for so long. In Buffalo, I was steps away from Delta baggage drop when my stalwart travel companion, Dennis Ryan, dropped me off at the departures entrance of the Buffalo airport. There was no waiting line. Then I was ushered off to TSA security pre-check. There was no waiting line. I was through baggage drop and TSA in less than 10 minutes. But (there’s always a but isn’t there) my departure gate was at the far end of the airport, a long walk away. Undaunted, I saw a courtesy cart with a driver and asked him to transport me to Gate 23. We were there within minutes. I had not yet broken a sweat, and, believe me, I break a sweat easily.
The plane to Detroit left on time, arrived early at Gate A 73. I had to make my way to Gate A 15, a long way away—but not when you have a moving walk-way about thirty feet away that deposited me at the base of an escalator to the express trams, one of which had just arrived as I came off the escalator. Into the tram and in five minutes, maybe less, I am at Gate 15. I had still not broken a sweat.
Flight to Madison was about 45 minutes. The longest walk of the day for me was from Gate 9 to baggage claim, maybe 4 minutes. My baggage was coming around when I got to claims. I snatched it off the conveyor, walked out the front entrance where my brother, the ever-reliable Tom Johnson, was waiting for me. From touchdown to getting into the car, maybe 15 minutes. If the logistics of travel were always this easy, I might travel more than I do. On the other hand, I might not. Smart money is on the “might not.”
So here I am, back in my beloved bunker, surrounded by my books, photos, and the other assorted treasures I have accumulated over years of haunting thrift stores, antique shops, junk stores, and rummage sales. My stuff—it makes me happy and content. I am once again at peace with the world and myself, and always with you, Gentle Reader, always content with you.
This is not a final post. I have more tales to write about the Cambridge trip. Moreover, Cromwell’s Head is not just about the trip to Cambridge and back. It is about the search for answers to life’s persistent questions, and that search will continue though the memories of Cambridge may fade. But for now, I am where I long to be. I am the sailor home from the sea, the hunter home from the hill.