Log 17: Exiting Urban Center


      The Audiobook:


Weather: All day clouds moved across the sun. Heavy wind. Rain ended the day.
Encounters: None worth mentioning.
Expenditures: Coffee (gross) in city café. Shell polish in general store.

Today we passed through the streets of Urban Center. They were heavily littered with bottles, trash, and papers of recent news: Are Airplanes Obsolete?, Rivers Swell to New Heights!, Can You Believe what Naomi Wore? I plucked one for later use, storing it in my pack. The paper seemed less crisp than the fresh papers scattered around my feet. I would have focused on that strangeness, but I wanted to get out of the populated area. All heads were bowed looking at the ground, shuffling to the next job, next meal, next . . . who knows.

I couldn’t help but look up toward the sky for the majority of our walk. I forget how tall those buildings are. They stand like soldiers at attention. Bright commercials float across the surfaces of multiple, ghostly images pouring neon light over the street. You can see small dark spots on their surfaces where the tiny bulbs have burned out. I saw one man repel off the top of the building to do repairs.

Senelala and I made our way out of the city and into the forest on the other side, winding down the path. Vines extended out of the forest, I noticed. They snaked their way into the city, wrapping around light poles and up the sides of buildings. I’ve often seen men in suits slice at them with big silver knives, but they grow back quickly. Each city stays carved out of the wilderness, but those forests creep as close as they can.

Thick roots made the path up to the cliff difficult to navigate. We grew weary quickly. Senelala glanced my direction multiple times, but I remained steady in my progress. I wanted to make it cliff side. We would camp there.

I could hear the rushing water in the river a long time before I could see it. That rushing, the moving, those sounds always interest me. I can listen with my eyes closed for hours. At the edge of the forest surrounding Urban Center is a break. After the break, a steep incline creeps up to the edge of the cliff. Senelala navigated the incline expertly, and I felt guilty for thinking he would have a hard time. When the sky grew darker the lamp attached to the shelter on Senelala’s shell flickered on. It buzzes faintly; I always mean to fix it.

We slowly pulled up to the ledge of the cliff, the ache in the arches of my feet kept me from running. I got as close to the drop-off as I could and looked over. The water was dark under the setting sun. I could see it crashing up against the rocks and edges of the river walls. I remember saying, “Let’s stop here” to Senelala, but he was already finding a place to camp. He planted himself on the grass, which was heavy with weeds and buzzing dew beetles (dew beetle shells are so bright even in the moonlight). I love the way Senelala slowly pulls each limb inside its hole, one at a time clockwise.

I dropped my pack from my shoulders. It was so freeing. I waterproofed its fabric a few days before, so the smell of chemicals still wafts off the canvas. The rain started dropping (slowly) when I started to pull out my food for dinner. Glancing up to the broad sky I saw the gathering clouds, congregating and blocking out the last of the evening light. I had hoped to see stars tonight. I focused on the task at hand and pulled out the little stovetop and flipped it on, sheltering it from the rain with my body. The warmth from it made sweat bead up on my face. The wind and rain hit my back, light at first, but they grew harder and harder.

Grabbing ahold of Senelala’s shell I leveraged myself up into my shelter. My mobile shelter atop Senelala’s shell is tight, but contains all the necessities of my life. I’ve found space to store a few treasured luxuries, too. I sunk into my bed pad with my food on my lap. I tossed an apple down to the resting Senelala.  The rain poured down, now a symphony about us. I reached into my pack to get some food I bought in Urban Center, but my fingers brushed across the paper I grabbed off the street.

I flipped on my overhead light to illuminate the paper. At first glance, I could tell it was different from the papers that littered the city. Its pages were worn and yellowed, unlike the crisp bright news of the city. I scanned over the front page trying to find a date, but it seemed the original front page was missing and I was left with the inner contents. I saw an ad for a “lawnmower”, but I did not recognize the machine it represented. There was a large article about an award winning theater production. The piece stated the “stars” were “at their peak” and there were “lifelike characters”.

The wind picked up, blowing against my paper, threatening to pull it out of my hands. I tapped twice on Senelala’s shell so he would turn our backs to the pouring rain and wind. My eyes caught on a single photo on the back of the aged paper. The photo featured a black and white image of a building.  It was a dwelling like nothing I had seen before. This dwelling seemed to be made with great care, it was so symmetrical. Each window seemed to have a frame, the roof was tapered to a point like a triangle, there was a white fence surrounding the tame grass, and smoke curled up and out of the chimney. What sort of place was this?

Underneath in a scripted font were the words, Home Sweet Home.

Home. The sight of that word created a familiar flutter in the deep pit of my stomach, faint but noticeable. I felt it the day I left. Home? I know sweet, I've had sugar in my coffee. Is home still here? What was that? How old was this paper? My head is still swirling with questions as I write this travel log. Why do I care so much about this photo?

What is Home Sweet Home?