I left Seattle one spring riding a Yamaha 80cc motorbike, with all my worldly gear packed into a bicycle basket over the back fender: tent; camera; portable typewriter; change of jeans and a shirt; and, of course, books. I was 22-years-old and on the Yellow Brick Road off to see The Wizard, joust windmills, slay dragons, and rescue Rapunzel from the Tower.
The sunsets belonged to me. So did the sunrises. And everything in between.
“Boy, what do you think you’re doing?” people asked.
Always I recognized the sudden sadness, the longing in their faces.
“Boy, I wish I were going with you.”
“To wander right,” I said, “you have to wander alone.”
I lived much of the time in my tent. Run out of money and get hungry, it was time to stop and recharge. I was a cowboy in Idaho, a fry cook in Utah, an artist in New Orleans, a grounds keeper in Alabama, a printer in Tulsa, a day laborer, a café night manager, a bar bouncer, a prospective ghost buster, a gold miner. . .
And, of course, there were always pretty maidens to rescue from the Big Bad Wolf.
Now it was a year later and I was heading south through Florida to Miami. Growing up, I remember my Mom getting that wandering look on her face. She would gaze off into my sunset from some cotton field; we grew up so poor, poverty was a step up.
“Son,” she would say, “I hear there’s oranges growing so thick in Florida you can stop and pick ‘em right off the tree.”
The sun was shining through Central Florida as I rode. Orange groves of the most remarkable green covered the rolling hills. I pulled my bike to the side of the road, got off and picked myself an orange off the limb of a tree on my side of the fence.
So I stole it. I hope God will forgive me for stealing an orange, a watermelon, and a chicken in my career as a thief. I hope the owner of that orange will.
“Mom,” I said to myself, saluting her with the orange. “Mom, it’s true. You can pick ‘em right off the tree.”
I sat down on the roadside, peeled my orange and ate it. A thoroughly happy and contented wandering man.
As a little hillbilly kid. . .I would lie on some creek bank with a cane pole and a can of worms. As night fell, gazing up into the stars, I would wonder about the nature of all things, and about God who lived up there somewhere in a place where it must always be summer and there were trees and streams and golden sunsets. . .