Missoula snuck up on me.
I was strolling along, minding my own business, focused on the adventure, thoroughly enjoying the company of friends but also half-longing for the diamonds-and-silver air of early morning in the forest -- a scant week of road and woods and already that felt more real, more home, than the concrete and brick and light everywhere at all times. Coffee of any sort is usually wonderful, and the cups I sipped in the lemon-colored light slanting in through the windows of the Butterfly and throwing the lacy moulded tiles on the ceiling into sharp relief were excellent.
But some round hollow space in my core pushed against the corners of the city and whimpered for the gritty, dense cup brewed over the glow of the little red stove, its sapphire ring of flame standing out against the dripping black trees (sun turning the sky to opal but still not high enough to see much of anything beyond your booted toes and the dark trunks around the tent), a bright sigil of warmth and nourishment and the merest modicum of civilisation. I missed discomfort and dirt and darkness and I wanted to run away to the woods and find a smooth stone to fit in my palm and fill my little tin mug with cowboy coffee and stay.
But then we walked up and down the streets and then off into the woods and hills and Biff and I talked long and alone and danced on the top of a mountain overlooking the pool of buildings and lights in the valley below.
And then we bustled and sang and puttered around the kitchen and came out with a fairly miraculous meal, if I do say so myself: sausage and collards like good Southerners, and butternut soup, and the heavenly squidgy little golden balls of pure delight otherwise known as pão de queijo, and we all ate and talked and ate some more.
And then more friends and introductions and darts and telling terrible jokes and playing charades and pictionary and some amalgam of the two and the best game in the world (which can never be played again) and and and.
And then I left. And now we're in Coeur d'Alene and hoping to hit Bend before nightfall and I still haven't managed to swallow the lump that welled up in my throat as soon as we pointed the Silver Snail westward and took off.
The last time I felt this way about leaving a place, September and I walked the Livingston docks until we found a fisherman who agreed to take me back up the river to the big breezy jungle house I'd fallen in love with over the past three days. He gave me a blue tarp to shield myself and my little pack and the only other passenger, a French boy whose name I did not ask but whose smile warmed me, from the sudden rain as we rounded the bends and the hills rose up around us and the pelicans settled down for the evening like great white plumed flowerbuds closing tightly against the cool dark breezes and the little dugout canoes scooted around us like waterbugs, dropping the night's nets, and then we reached my dock with its palm roof and ancient fraying hammocks and I ran up the smoothstoned steps and was home.
This time I'm still heading west through the burnished-gold hills towards the stated goal of watching the sun set over the ocean even though I want nothing more than to find another friendly fisherman and retrace my steps. Not looking back. Still hungry.
It's a little later now. The lump has moved out of my throat and settled somewhere just below my collarbone. I am in Portland, drinking coffee and nibbling on coffeecake with my best friend, and life is ok. And I know beyond the tiniest shadowpuppet of a doubt that the adventure will stretch on and on with the road and beyond, and I'll dip my toes in every salty stretch on earth and walk in ancient footprints and sing to the sky, and also that I will be back.