We blew out a tire somewhere in the desert west of Tuscon, and since that one was the spare, we had to hitchhike to the nearest town to get it fixed.

This was a long time ago, 1989, before cell phones and the internet, when young people weren’t so smart as they are now.

Gail and I were on a road trip across the country, our honeymoon after eloping in Bar Harbor.

The guy at the garage had some bad news: Our tire was too damaged to fix and he didn’t have another exactly the same size, just one that had a slightly higher profile. This was almost 30 years ago, so I don’t remember exactly what the problem was, but I can recall what came next.

“Would that be bad for the car?” I managed to ask. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I desperately needed the car to have four wheels again.

He gave me a long, hard look and in tougher language than I can use here said: “If you don’t know the answer to that question, you are too ‘effing’ dumb to be this far from home.”

I had to agree. That was exactly how dumb I was, and I was, indeed, a long way from home, even though at that point I didn’t really know where home was.

After an undistinguished college career, I hit the mid-’80s without much direction. Fortunately, my girlfriend at the time had enough for both of us and invited me to join her in Providence, Rhode Island, where she would pursue a master’s in creative writing at Brown University. We had a good time there, but we knew it was just temporary.

As graduation approached, Gail had a new plan: We were going to move to Maine, where her mother lived. And we were going to be farmers.

We would raise our own food and enough of a cash crop to cover the cost of things like taxes. She would manage to write novels in between the farm work. This wasn’t just something she’d dreamed up, she had read a book about it. “Living the Good Life: How to live simply in a troubled world,” by Helen and Scott Nearing, which I’ve come to learn is the bible of the Back to the Land Movement.

I can’t remember reading much of it because I found it so terrifying. I would have appreciated the Nearings’ critique of consumer capitalism, but I couldn’t get past all the references to clearing brush, building stone structures and chopping wood for the winter. I’d grown up in a suburb of New York City, and the total number of times I had so much as mowed a lawn was in the low double digits. I enjoyed camping, but I wasn’t particularly good at some of the most important parts – like building a fire or not getting lost.

But, I was young and in love, which makes everything possible. When we talked about our farm in Maine, I imagined myself in a barn-like structure after a hard day of haying or whatever, listening to Yankee games on the radio with the help of an elaborate home-made antenna.

But it never came to be. We bought the too-big tire in Arizona, survived the trip across the desert and rolled into Maine in April, 1989. Since the plan required renting an apartment and getting jobs, we naturally started in Portland.

This was going to be our base while we found the unloved piece of land that we would reclaim with our labor. Portland was going to be our point of debarkation. But we never debarked.

One late night in the ’90s I was making the long drive back from New York after visiting my parents. I pulled off the turnpike using the exit formally known as “6A,” paid my toll and headed northeast on I-295. After crossing the Fore River, I got a glimpse of Portland, and suddenly, I wasn’t tired any more. I was excited to be heading home.

Home? When did that happen?

Was it the time I literally jumped for joy on Washington Avenue after I’d sold my first freelance radio piece to Maine Things Considered? (Two full days work for $50!) Was it one of the days that my two daughters were born in Mercy Hospital on State Street? Was it that winter night when I was leaving the old Press Herald building on Congress Street and watched the snow fall in the lights of City Hall? Could I have learned to love a cornfield in Somerset County just as much?

I can’t say. But I do know this: I may not be any smarter now than I was then, but it doesn’t matter because I’m home.


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