Daryl Farmer

Daryl FarmerAlaska Literary Award, 2016

Daryl Farmer is the author of Bicycling beyond the Divide, which received a Barnes and Noble Discover Award and Where We Land, a collection of short stories. His recent work has appeared in The Whitefish Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Gingerbread House. He is an associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he is director of the creative writing program.

Excerpt from essay “Being Home”

It’s August, and geese from Creamer’s Field begin their southward migration and another summer follows, leaving behind a diminishing light. Shadows grow longer by the day. The tour busses are gone; school busses have replaced them. Not far from here, in Denali National Park, bearberry and dwarf birch redden the tundra, and grizzly bears convert berries and prey into fat stores in preparation for their winter sleep. No dog days this year; autumn’s arrived with authority, breaking up the party. The warblers that frequented our feeders in spring are gone, on their way to South America. I envy them their journey. The last days of August and already the forecast calls for frost, so Joan and I cover our basil, cut the last of our lettuce, hope the best for our pumpkins which are still green. For dinner, we grill halibut caught on a recent trip to the Kenai. Fishing is a new pursuit for us; it’s what you do here. A when-in-Rome thing. We’ve lived in Fairbanks five years now, and family and friends want to know if we’re finally taking root. I wonder this, too, but Joan shrugs it off.

“Home’s where we’re together,” she says.

“What’s vacation, then?” I ask.

“Hmm,” she says. “Good point.”

In the twenty-three years we’ve been married, we’ve lived in twelve states. In one three year stretch, we lived in eight. Even within some of these places, we’ve moved. I take a mental inventory and count twenty-seven dwellings—guest homes, apartments, cabins, even a house or two. The settling down associated with marriage has been lost on us. Some evenings after work, we get in our car and follow a trail of “For Sale” signs. We drive slowly past the houses, consider each a possibility. Is this our final stop? We can never seem to commit to the affirmative. We find flaws with every house, and the world outside beckons.

 To root or to wander. For much of my life I have felt these instincts churn turmoil within me. Settled, I’ve felt stagnant; in my wanderings, I’ve felt the pull of a home I’ve not known since leaving Colorado. I journey the West and along the way, in Ennis, Montana, say, or Chico, California, or Sequim, Washington, Salida, Colorado, St. George, Utah–I think, this could be home. I long for roots even as I resist them.

“As mobile and transient as many of us are, how do we maintain a stable identity and not lose some sense of our place in the world?” asks Kim Barnes in an essay titled “Almost Paradise”. It’s a question I worry over, this idea of losing my self through our wandering ways. To never take root is to never reach beneath the surface. I take solace in the migration of birds, those geese and warblers once again come and gone. The 17th Century poet Basho helps, too. “The journey itself is my home,” he writes. I want to agree. I wonder, though, what are the costs of our wandering?

Alaska agrees with us, I think. We have good jobs, and it seems the perfect place for the unsettled to settle: the ever-changing light, the seasons within seasons, the opportunities for adventure. In the short time we’ve lived here, we’ve kayaked near glacial icebergs, shared a beach with courting grizzlies, stood beneath the dancing aurora. The possibilities seem endless, adventure enough here to last a lifetime. From the deck where we grill, you can see downtown buildings and the Alaska Range beyond. This is important to me, this proximity to mountains. I may not be sure if this is home, if such a thing even exists for us, but I do know if it does, there are mountains in view. “Once you have lived with them for any length of time,” writes Ruskin Bond in his Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalaya, “you belong to them. There is no escape.” Mountains suggest stability. Like my parents still living in the Colorado Springs house where I grew up, when you leave and return, they wait for you.