The morning of Day 1, November 4, 2018, which is to say, in a real sense, day 1,764.
I had been talking about this walk for nearly five years and now I was actually leaving.
I was in Town Square watching as people took turns with a special white marker writing on my black car.
I wanted them to write the names of their favorite places in town, but most were variations on ‘bon voyage.’
Carlos Fragata, like me a board member of a local environmental group, got it right: he drew a picture of Flag Rock on White Horse Beach. Earlier I had drawn a picture of a wave, and the name “Center Hill Beach,” a place in Plymouth that I loved, where I had fallen in love.
Though I had been talking about this walk for years even close friends weren’t sure what was motivating me. People that I told about my idea at some point in the last five years would often come up to me on the street and ask if I had gone already, and returned.
“Weren’t you doing that walking thing,” they’d often say, to which I would smile, let the question dangle in the air for a moment, and then explain.
It was – is – not an easy thing to explain. It would be simple, I thought, in its realization but difficult to explain.
To give my “elevator speech” I needed to be going up to the 50th floor.
The idea for leaving and ‘walking home’ first began to materialize on the morning of December 31, 2013.
Were you there?
I had taken a picture at or around sunrise, somewhere in Plymouth, every morning in 2013 and on the last day – the last sunrise I called it – 500 of my nearest and dearest friends showed up at Plimoth Plantation for the final picture of the year.
I was stunned, elated, confused?
That first ‘last sunrise’ event wasn’t even over before people began to come up to me and ask, ‘what’s next?’
What will you do for an encore?
The Ponds, many suggested. The myth had always been that there were 365 ponds in Plymouth, one for every day of the year. I could take a picture of one a day..
But there weren’t 365 ponds in Plymouth: there were 430.
I wanted to move on to the next thing as well, to sleep until the sun was in the sky, but first I had to understand what had happened, first I had to figure out why 500 people risked frostbite to pose for a picture at 6:15 in the morning, the morning of the last day of the year?
And they didn’t just show up: they came with oysters, oatmeal stout, fresh muffins, coffee, placards proclaiming their particular cause or charity.
The final picture happened around 6:30 that morning: the tailgating in the Plimoth Plantation parking lot went on for hours.
That afternoon I began to look at some of the pictures from that final sunrise.
I examined the list of those that had said they would attend.
Cheryle and June, the founders of the Friends of Burial Hill were there early, helping me put out signs directing people to the site where we would take that final picture of the year. The lady in the faux fur coat in the front row? From the Fragment Society – the oldest continually operating charity in America.
Halfway back in the crowd were members of the Plymouth Lodge of Masons, all formally attired.
Lurking near the front, bright eyed and energetic despite being desperately ill, super-Townie Wedge Bramhall with a sign protesting the local nuclear power plant.
Both the police and fire chief were there.
Congressional aid Mike Jackman and then, at the last minute, his boss, then freshman Congressman Keating.
Vinnie deMacedo, still a state representative I believe.
A group of woman who baked cupcakes for families in stress.
The Friends of Myles Stasndish State Forest.
As I looked over the pictures from that day I began to realize what they all had in common: these were people already engaged in their community, already serving on one on more boards, town meeting representatives, members of historic societies, artists and photographers and musicians.
Five years later as I walked into Albuquerque, New Mexico, about two months into the walk, Tobias Esquibel – the brother in law of Plymouth School Superintendant Gary Maestas, asked me what “drove” me to it.
I wasn’t driven to it I protested. I was compelled. I was inspired. I was seized by the idea of it.
It intoxicated me.
In trying to understand why others had shown up on that cold morning in 2013 I had an epiphany: Plymouth was my hometown.
I had never felt the need for a hometown but now it was suddenly there beating in my chest like a second heart.
WalkingHome – it came to me in one crystalline moment like the first drop of rain after a long drought landing on the bridge of your nose as you gazed heavenward hoping – would be a journey to a greater understanding of what made me feel that Plymouth was my hometown: what combination of natural human empathy, effective government, civic engagement, history and environment creates a soil fertile enough to grow a sense of community.
What can we all do to create and maintain that feeling that you belong someplace?
Or what do we do – intentionally or unwittingly – to obstruct or deny that sense of belonging?
It seemed to me the perfect idea.
It came out of the box fully assembled.
I knew immediately that I would call it “walking home,” because it was about finding the way home to a sense of belonging, home to a community of caring, home to a community with a legacy of civic engagement.
Or so I thought on that winter morning almost five years ago. But today, as I prepared to drive away?