In six weeks on the road I collected a book full of notes and a few dramatic photos, I ate, drank, visited, toured, drove, rode, flew, hiked, canoed, dreamed, pondered, wondered, felt elation, disappointment, numbness, and unfathomably intense stimulation. I’ve been to cities and towns and deserts and lakes and rivers and oceans and islands and tracts of land carved into golf courses where rain rarely falls. I’ve been to the woods, to the mall, to grocery stores and gas stations who mercifully sell beer after 9 PM, and to the two best pizzerias on the planet. It’s a big ol’ world we walk upon, and sometimes I’m not sure which section of it I should really call home.
On the road, I learned that: tri-sodium-phosphate kills mould; mesquite beans are edible and nutritious; the two-tailed swallow tail butterfly is North America’s largest; the Wiffle ball was invented in my home state; so was the Erector set and the heli-coil screw thread insert; on a saw-tooth track, square-wheeled cars roll; above 3000 ft. the saguaro disappear; fresh eggs are the temperature of a chicken and the colors of Easter; chickens will devour an entire banana in seconds; geese are just plain mean; swaying fringe on clothing keeps flying insects at bay; the Internet hosts bourbon and single malt scotch exchanges, tucked away in some of its darker corners; bourbon ale is actually pretty tasty; I can pick out my wife’s voice in the wind; the wind picks up at the instant the sun sets behind Sedona’s red rocks; the desert is more alive than the roads cut through it; only 15% of Arizona’s riparian areas remain untouched, most wrecked by a blind envy to own their beauty; the Arizona black rattlesnake is more venomous than its diamondback cousin; American spirit and American accents are one in the same, which is to say Tom Petty’s Southern Accents documents a linguistic truth; you can learn a lot about a man by the questions he asks — and even more from those he doesn’t; culture, concerns, and conversations are shades of the same color and I’m uncomfortable around guns; the gap between “living in” and “being from” is filled by “belonging”; turbulence can rock a kid to sleep; I now grasp why New Zealand doesn’t use central heating — Kiwis like to feel where they are; I miss people more than I miss places; I used to be no taller than a doorknob and one day Noodle will realise the same; Noodle knows how to start a motorboat; as you take off from Newark Airport, the view of the Statue of Liberty is sublime. And though the opposite of its welcoming metaphor, as Ellis Island fades out of sight, I remember I’m on my way home.
Noodle grew up in six weeks on the road. I suppose traveling thousands of miles and meeting hundreds of people alters a thing or two for a little kid. Or maybe it was all the airports, a different bed every night, rides in golf carts and go carts, horses, tractors, bicycles, trains, fishing boats, canoeing, kayaking, baseball, basketball, BMX biking, bocce, swimming, a visit to the zoo and the rodeo, a run in with a rattlesnake, a live blues band, stoking a camp fire and smooshing hot marshmallow into all American s’more deliciousness. The trip was fraught with frustrations and deviations from the familiar routine we enjoy in New Zealand. Vacation was intense, and as I see it, any set of intense experiences shapes you faster and more furiously than you can hope to notice. It’s even more pronounced in a little boy who still parrots every American idiom and curse I utter and every oddball accent ringing in his ears.
I notice this: Noodle’s never been a cuddler, but now that we’re back, suddenly he is. In his entire existence he’s never sat still more than a few seconds at a time. Even in the womb he was a busy kid, kicking a permanent bruise into his momma’s ribs, and since his first minutes of life on Earth, he’s been a squirmer. Until now. Maybe it’s all the confusion and exhaustion that led him into my lap. Back here in my comfy chair, he’s asking for space next to me with his favorite blanket, laying his head in the crook of my arm and clasping my hands with his.
I thought being around his stuff in his room would settle him down again, after the frantic pace of the trip. But he hasn’t so much as peeled back the first layer of the toys on his shelves. It’s still the new gadgets and geegaws from the trip holding his attention. Could be their newness he savors; there’s certainly an undeniable attraction between little kids and novelty. Of course my lap and my chair are nothing new; I’ve been here all along. Yet here the two of us are, curled and nuzzled, delighted in one another’s warm touch. And I finally realize, I am home.