Where does wanderlust come from?

Wanderlust is the desire to move, the need to see what is over the next horizon, the inability to turn back on the trail. Everyone has it to some extent, whether it is the need to get to the back of the closet, or the far reaches of the attic, the need to hike the Appalachian Trail, or see the Pamirs.

I have always felt wanderlust. One of my earliest memories is of riding a train across the country with my parents and my sister. I was three, and we were moving from Shelton, WA to the New York suburbs. At night, the circular overhead fluorescent bulb cast a greenish glow on my mother’s face when she tucked us in. I was on the bottom bunk, the younger sister. When the train rounded a bend, we looked out the windows to see the cars stretching far ahead, pulling us toward Chicago, then New York. I don’t remember what was out the window, just the head of the train in the distance, pulling us on and on.

Our suburban neighborhood was a series of interconnected dead end streets, great for riding bicycles and roller skating. All the kids had to walk to the intersection of the neighborhood street with a much busier road to catch the bus. The bus stop was a landmark, the point beyond which no one could go without parental permission. Within the neighborhood, all roads were open. There were only four streets, but we knew everyone, and the landscape seemed pretty large.

In middle school, though, we sometimes walked or rode our bikes to the bus stop and sat on the split-rail fence and talked. I have no recollection of what we talked about, but behind our conversations was a yearning for something else, something different.

What else was out there? On vacations we visited family in upstate New York. My grandparents didn’t go to Florida, like some of my friends grandparents did. I had no concept of Florida, but I was pretty sure we were missing out. My father’s parents lived in the city of Syracuse, in an urban neighborhood. Their house was much older than our 1949 brick ranch, and their cellar still smelled like coal, dark and lit by a single light bulb on a string. With their six children grown and gone, the house seemed huge, and we raced up and down the back stairs and around the empty upstairs rooms. The attic was full of boxes and trunks.

My mother’s family lived in Penn Yan, a more rural area, and we spent more time outdoors, wandering around front yards, peering into abandoned farmyards, and climbing on Grandpa Mills’ long moribund diesel tractor in the back yard. We entertained ourselves by looking in the barn and getting used to the smell of hay–very strange to suburban noses. We swatted flies on Grandpa’s front porch all one morning, Paula and I, with cousins Michael and Carol, the four of us paired in ages. When we were together with cousins we had adventures hunting for junk and old glass bottles in farmyard dumps, or horn buttons and auto insignia from old cars abandoned in nearby fields. I believe my cousin still has some of our booty.

When we went visiting, we saw the fancy chickens my Uncle Buddy raised. They had topknots of black feathers that looked like some of the ladies hats we saw in church. The hens laid colored eggs, pastel blue and green, yellow and coral. I asked Uncle Buddy why stores didn’t have colored eggs for sale, they were so pretty. He said that no one wants strange colors, why, people practically wouldn’t eat brown eggs. For stores, people wanted white eggs. I didn’t agree.

At Uncle Jack’s house on Keuka Lake there was always a boat, and a dock to jump off. There were more cousins, too, older ones who knew about marching band, and football, and summer jobs. At Grandpa Mills’, we stood in the back yard and listened to dad and Grandpa shoot doves in the barn. We ate them for dinner that night and learned to pick the shot out before we hurt our teeth. Life in other places seemed full of adventure compared to the suburbs back home. Maybe wanderlust comes from seeing things different from what you know and deciding you like them.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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