The older I get, the more I keep learning about myself.
I thought I would have had at least the most obvious things about myself figured out by now- I am, after all, well into my 30’s and while I hopefully have a lot of life left to live, I’ve also been around the sun a few times now, enough to know some basic truths.
Like… I still really like the color yellow. And giant pandas and wearing flip flops and listening to the Beatles. At my core, I’m optimistic and friendly and always try to see the best in people. I really like people, but I’m also an introvert, so I can’t be around them all the time.
Stuff like that.
But then there are the things that should be obvious, and when I finally pick up on my own patterns it’s like something had to smack me over the head to make me see what should have been apparent years and years ago.
There was this day when I was out for a walk, it was probably 3 or 4 years ago, and it came to me in a flash, this realization, this truth: I love trees. And I had always loved them, I have very distinct memories of riding my bike around my neighborhood as a child, and always making a point to notice my favorite trees. And the magnolia that grew in our backyard, how I would marvel every spring at the petals that would seem to burst into bloom overnight, and if I looked out my brother’s bedroom window the view would be nothing but those pink petals, it was like magic. And more and more examples of things like this but it wasn’t until recently that I actually realized: ‘Oh, I like trees.’
Bear with me through this meandering introduction to what this post is really about; it’s been a long day. (Or, maybe, it’s just been a long winter and I feel very out of practice with crafting a blog post).
My thoughts have been on traveling lately, as I look ahead to this summer and try to figure out what I want to do and where I want to go. Here’s what I do know: almost inevitably, I’ll be headed back to Europe again.
I say ‘inevitably’ because, while there are other places in the world that I’d really like to travel to, I’m still very drawn to Europe.
And of course I am! Because when it comes to things I love, I’m a repeater.
Maybe there’s a real and technical term for this, but for now I’ll just stick with ‘repeater’. I repeat experiences, I go back, I return… and I love doing this.
I think the psychology of this is really interesting, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, I’m just struck by how often I’ve repeated experiences in my life when I could have been off trying new things or going to new places, and it’s like it just now occurred to me that this has been a pattern for a long, long time. And so maybe it does make some sense that I keep returning to Europe, that I keep returning to the Camino, that I keep returning to my writer’s retreat at La Muse, that I keep returning to Paris and to France.
Maybe this predilection was set for me as a child; when I look at my very earliest experiences of the joy of returning to a place, I think of the beach vacations my family would take every summer. We’d load into our station wagon (three kids across the back seat and we all dreaded being in the middle), and drive 10 hours down to North Carolina- just above or below the Outer Banks, I’m not quite sure exactly where we were- and we’d rent the same beach house and spend a week with my extended family.
I adored these trips, and one of my strongest memories is the mounting excitement I’d feel as our car crossed the bridge over to Emerald Isle, as we’d approach our rental, as I’d walk in the door and run around the rooms and look for all of the familiar things. The couches! The sailboat mirror! The spiral staircase! The room with the bunk beds! It felt like another home, and returning there felt a little like being home. And there were the reunions with the people I loved, too: my cousins, the girl next door (whose family rented the same house at the same time every year just like us, and we’d write to each other throughout the year- “Remember the 10th!” we would always sign off, and I still remember that beautiful day when the waves were calm and the sun was warm and at 11 years old we couldn’t imagine anything more perfect).
So, you know, I’ve been doing this for a long time- settling into a place and learning to love it. The physicality of it, the features, the feelings, the people. And because of those beach vacations, this tendency is linked strongly to travel. When I experience something beautiful in some ‘other’ place, I form a connection with it, and I am drawn- strongly- to return.
My summer trips have been following a pattern lately: a long walk, and then several weeks at La Muse. Or La Muse, and then a long walk. And that’s going to be the case again this summer. La Muse is already set, this will be my fourth time there, and the third year in a row that I’ve spent my July in the hills of the Montagne Noir in southern France.
Why do I go back? The feelings I have as I sit in the Jeep driving up the winding roads towards Labastide are the very same ones I had as a child when we’d arrive at our beach house. I look for all the familiar landmarks in those hills, I look for the sign saying that we’ve arrived, I look for Homer and I look for my friends and I suck in my breath when I walk onto the terrace, I breath the air that smells faintly of chestnut trees and lavender. I’m going to be staying in the same room this summer as I did last summer, and this feels like a sort of home to me, a room that- for a moment- is all mine. A place I can return to where I feel so happy, like the best version of myself.
And it’s not just La Muse. I thought to write about all of this tonight because, as I plan out my summer, I’m also trying to decide on which Camino I might want to walk. I was starting to feel rather committed to trying out a new path- the Camino Aragones (a 165km path that crosses the Pyrenees to the south of St Jean Pied de Port, and links up to the Camino Frances in Puente La Reina). This would be a great option, given my time frame- travel days not included, I have 7 days to walk after my stay at La Muse. And this would be a new experience, the path is supposed to be beautiful, the pilgrim infrastructure good, the Camino spirit strong.
All of this, and yet, I think I might want to walk the beginning of the Norte again.
It’s a thought that’s been nagging at me, and I keep pushing it back, telling myself that it’s too soon to repeat a path, that there are too many new ones out there for me to try, that there’s no point to repeating something again so soon. I walked the Camino del Norte from Irun to Oviedo in 2015 (and then finished the rest of the route in 2016), so it’s only been a few years. And if I’m being honest, I could easily repeat any of the walks I’ve done since I started this Camino thing (including the long-distance treks I’ve done in Scotland and England), so why am I feeling so drawn to the Norte?
I’m not sure, but I don’t know that I need an answer. I think with a lot of things in life- and especially with a Camino- it’s important to listen to whatever is calling you. And I think the only reason that I’m hesitating is because it is, yet again, another experience that I’m going to be repeating.
I’m curious what all of your thoughts are about repeating experiences, especially as it relates to traveling. Would you return, again and again, to a place or a city or a country that you know you love? Or would you feel like it’s more valuable to always travel somewhere new and different? Does it depend on what you want out of the experience?
If I do the Norte again, I’m sure I’ll put my own unique twist on it, something different than the last time I walked. And I’m sure that the entire experience will be different- with any luck, my first day out of Irun will have good weather and outstanding views, something I missed that first time around (oh, the rain and the fog, and the wringing of socks in the middle of a field). My plans aren’t set- I still have months until I have to make any decisions- but I’m really leaning towards walking part of this path again. And right now, it’s putting a smile on my face. It feels right.
Sometimes that’s all we really have to go on, isn’t it? Just a feeling, some push in our gut that tells us we’re on the right track.
And I can see how this is important to me, to the person that I’ve always been- the one who likes giant pandas and magnolia trees and beach houses with spiral staircases- that the return to a place I love allows me to fall into an even richer experience of that place, a deeper connection, a return to my best self, a reminder of where I’ve been and maybe even where I’m going.
Yes, a reminder of where I might be going. A yellow arrow, a marker, to guide me along my way.