Going home

Who said “You can never go home”? *    I do it all the time. In my head. In my heart. In my soul. In my dreams. It has been almost 40 years since I was a resident of Canada, and longer since I left my family home there.  I have lived in several places during my exile, some of them comfortable, some of them having a welcoming, loving atmosphere. But it’s not the same.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. This place where I have set down is at times searingly hot and dry, at times cold and wet to the point of deluge. It’s an old land, worn, well-used, picked over by uncountable generations of peasants, fought over by armies since prehistoric times. It has many names in many languages.  Turkey is the closest approximation Western tongues can handle. Türkiye is more accurate, it means ‘land of the Turks’ and I suppose it is, now. But the Turks were relatively recent invaders and their true homeland is somewhere in central Asia. Other people have called it home, remnants of some of those groups still do. Macedonian and island Greeks, Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Circassian Russians, Jews from their diaspora, Venetians, Romans, Carians, Lydians on and on …   Every pebble bears the imprint of many sandals, now they feel the caress of today’s ubiquitous ‘flipflop’. Most of the ancestral groups created monuments to themselves or their gods. You probably could not move today without stumbling over someone’s tomb marker, except for the habit of new conquerors to trash their inheritance and new generations of farmers to grind and burn marble relics (Marble is a form of limestone, lime is a fertilizer). And of course new gods must feel insecure as their followers wonder at the signs of success by previous gods. Christians trashed earlier temples and so destroyed some of the hard-won knowledge that their forbears had recorded and deposited in temples for safe-keeping.  Or else the Christians simply adopted old temples and set about removing the signs of former deities, so destroying some of mankind’s highest artistry. Brilliant.  These days, most Turks are Muslim. Their older ancestors wrested control of their country from the Byzantines (eastern Christians) in the 15th century. Then they set about ruling most of the world that mattered to them. The Ottomans dominated northern Africa, the Middle East, fringes of Europe. And a hundred years ago after the terminal decline of Ottoman power and with European powers seeking to fill the void, Turkey rose up and trounced the foreign armies seeking control. A proud history for my neighbours and friends, which has produced a culture of honour and respect that I value and enjoy. A culture of amazing kindness and generosity from people who remember having nothing.

Honour and respect were part of the culture of my childhood, in Britain and in Canada. Britain seems to have abandoned any pretence of that culture. Maggie and her cronies killed it, Cameron and his ilk are dancing on its grave. In Canada, fashion spreads more slowly – even the fashion for greed.  I remember as a child when people helped each other, there was a sense of solidarity. In the 90’s I briefly visited Toronto and was disturbed to witness Gucci-suited execs stepping from their limos over the street people seeking warmth, huddled over the exhaust vents of the subway train system. Wall Street contagion.

The home I remember was on the outskirts of Toronto. Now of course it’s just a ‘burb, a bedroom region of sprawling Toronto. When I left in 1970 the town had 10,000 residents, now it has 110,000. The wild land of our adventures has been domesticated, flattened and manicured. You can read all about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax%2C_Ontario The town was formed after the second world war, our family migrated there from the UK in 1954 – I was 4 years old. The wartime site of a huge munitions factory left traces that kids enjoyed. Railway sidings had laced the area, with dozens of lines of track each adjacent to a shell-filling shed . Between the sheds large earthworks had been formed to protect adjacent sheds from the blast if something went off. The soil was scooped out and piled high. When the sheds and tracks were removed and tree saplings moved in, we found dozens of hills to conquer and to defend from rivals, dozens of ponds to fall into in summer or skate on in winter – the source of countless frogs and jars of tadpoles. My adventures may have ended there but school days as a teenager became hell, so I sought the countryside and the bush as a place to chill alone. I hated the stultifying pace of lessons, because I could grasp rare new concepts quickly and the rest of each lesson was boring. My active mind sought to combat that boredom with daydreams and fantasies – anywhere except where teachers thought I should be. My reports always included “could do better” but never explained why I should do better. So I stood apart, a misfit. And as my academic results dwindled, my body grew tall and gangly. That was enough to differentiate me, make me stand out, make me a target for school bullies. I ran to the woods to escape them but I stayed in the woods to love the wildlife and the trees, a solitude I cherished.

Now as my end of days draws nearer, I dream of going home. Alone, alas. To escape my very small problems that seem insurmountable. Back to the woods with my tent, back to the lakes with my fishing line. I know I can cope – my survival skills and bushcraft have been dormant but not forgotten. I can still carry a pack and sleep on the ground, as I proved earlier this year. I think I will be a lot slower and more cautious than I was. But that will give me more time to be observant, to see anew the squirrels and chipmunks and beavers and deer, to find my spirit animal. I hope to renew acquaintance with Canada’s vivid autumn colours and the first white cloak of winter. And I plan to enjoy the dancing flames of little campfires while bacon crisps and trout fry and bannock bakes and coffee perks.  No, it won’t be home. Home has disappeared. And I have changed so much that the me of home has disappeared too. But the memories may be renewed and the restlessness of my spirit may be eased.

*Thomas Wolfe in You Can’t Go Home Again (1940) “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to … dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”