According to Thomas Wolfe, “Once you leave, you can’t go home again,” and I have found this to be quite true, time and again, my 2014 See The World journey being the most recent example. Of course the idea being that throughout your travels, during your journey, through your experiences, you’ve somehow grown. Grown in a way that opens your eyes wider, that breathes new life into your old thoughts, that changes the lens through which you view life, if even just a little.
Madison, Wisconsin is certainly not the same. Because I am not the same.
So in coming back to Lapland Finland, back to where it all started, I did prepare myself for the possibility that it might be a liiiittle less magical than how I left it. I had explored so many amazing places, had so many beautiful experiences, met so many wonderful people since leaving. Finland just happened to be the first escape from my mental imprisonment; perhaps that’s why it stuck so deep in my mind and deeper in my heart.
But as soon as I stepped off the plane in Rovaniemi, I knew that wasn’t true. Finland lives in my mind as it does, because it is my idea of happiness. It’s magical because I truly believe it has magical powers. The Cares and Concerns I carried with me to the Madison airport, I left packed in a duffel bag somewhere between Chicago and Helsinki, their importance completely diminished. In Lapland, I found a new duffel waiting for me, full of balance, sense of self, clarity. Lapland Finland has this amazing ability to slow me down, remind me to take life one day at a time, enjoy right now and stop thinking about tomorrow. Here, tomorrow simply arrives because today overflows, and there is nowhere else for Life to go, but on.
And I have this terrible personality defect where I am always looking forward to the next thing, the next adventure, constantly thinking about all of the Life happening around me (without me) wondering, thinking ahead, booking, moving. My mind always seems to be elsewhere, needing to keep busy. But a remarkable thing happens to me up in the Arctic Circle: I wake up every morning and my head is silent.
I am exactly where I want to be. I no longer wonder about any of the Life happening around me (or far away from me), because I am living in today, in the life I want to be living, doing exactly what I want to be doing. If you suffer from a similar personality defect, you know what a rare thing this is, to wake up calm, the kind of calm that darts past your eyes when they first open and pulses through the rest of your body as you stretch yourself awake, totally unaware. Instead of the usual shit my mind recycles at dawn, it carefully selects two things: coffee and dogs.
You might think it strange that a place can have this power. But take comfort in knowing that I am not the only crazy one who feels this way. Usvatanssin Kennel is a place people return. Maybe for the same reasons I do, maybe for something different. But all three volunteers here now have been here before (including Charlotte, who I had the pleasure of spending last April getting to know). Maybe they come back because they miss the smells, the sounds, the warm husky cuddles. Maybe they come back because they miss the joy of opening a kennel door, watching the huskies leap out in anticipation, so excited they tremble while being harnessed, some barely containing their need to run (ahem, Monty). Maybe they come back for the thrill of pulling the snub line free, listening as 30 eager howling huskies fall silent, pouring all of their energy into running as fast as their hearts can carry them, ears back, tails down, tug lines tight. Maybe they come back because the noise in their head stops, too.
It’s not a place you leave and forget. It’s a place you leave and stare quietly out the bus window, replaying recent memories, wondering when you can return. Because you know when you come back, Life will be same as it ever was, yet somehow better.
It’s better because you understand Time now, you understand how it passes, and passes quickly. You give extra cuddles to your favorite dogs, linger awhile longer after feeding. You’re more present during conversations, appreciate each sunset, each sunrise a little more, the afternoon tea, the Saturday dinners. You welcome the pains that return from bending over in the snow-packed kennels, scooping doggy poo and feeding each beautiful, happy mouth, because you know that even that pain will soon be gone. And you will miss it all.
While I was helping harness the dogs and prepare the sleds for one of the guest safaris, one guest noticed my accent and asked where I was from. “Wooowiiieee, that’s a long way to come for such a short visit.” Is it? Huh. I hadn’t even thought about the time it took to get here or the distance I traveled to be here. I just knew I had to be here. Besides, I live in America. If I choose to leave North America, everywhere is a long way to go. And for someone who voluntarily drives nine hours to Ely, Minnesota for some quality handmade winter boots, an eight-hour flight to Europe (and then a flight to Helsinki, and then a flight to Rovaniemi, and then a drive north through the Arctic Circle) just doesn’t seem like a huge deal for a peace of mind and a lifetime of memories. It falls in line with a long, beautiful drive up north.
But Time has once again prevailed, as it inevitably does, and my visit to Lapland has come to an end. I sit here in Helsinki, with only my photos and memories, the smell of husky on my winter coat. Tomorrow, I’ll pick up my duffel bag of Cares and Concerns somewhere between Helsinki and Chicago, not because I want to, but because that is what happens when you leave and go home again.
I can say one thing with absolute certainty: I will return. And I have no doubt it will feel like home, same as it ever was. Only better.