Restless toes might be inherited. Mine were always wiggling to move beyond the borders of the small farm on which I was raised. My immigrant nana said I had a soul built for wandering, and that she understood. I was nine when I told her my goal in life was to travel to as many countries as I had years. I was already way behind my travel target at nine years old, and this reality caused me an enormous amount of stress. At nine, I should have visited nine countries already, at least. I’d visited zero. How would I ever be able to catch up?
I did, eventually. By the time I was twenty-five, I’d poked my curious nose into the crevices of dozens of countries.
When I was nineteen I left for Australia. Why? I can’t say. For me the only question to ask was: Why not? I took a semester off from college and flew to the opposite side of the world. I spent months traveling. Learning the dangers and depths of the Great Barrier Reef, exploring islands where the population was not measured by human inhabitants, but the number of wild dogs that claimed residency. I met locals, shared meals, listened to oral histories. I discovered that the world was filled with travelers. A loose but vibrant network. I had found my people. My toes wriggled in excitement. They were desperate to keep exploring.
When I walked the remaining length of the Berlin Wall it was hard to process how beautiful and raw and terrible it was all at once. My footsteps paralleled a wall built of concrete and politics as my fingers traced along the lines of color that West Berliners used to paint their side of the city’s divide. The murals were not just to beautify something ugly. The murals were stories. Artistic voice. Painted protests.
I couldn’t begin to understand the intoxication of the standing stones at England’s Stonehenge until I stood within her ancient circle and listened to birdsong and wind twist into music as it whistled through the gaps between massive medieval stones. It was the first time I remember feeling truly speechless, breathless. And so very powerless in the shadow of Stonehenge’s magnitude.
I filled journals with my observations. I sketched drawings of the mummified bodies I saw at Pompeii, women in red dancing the flamenco in the streets of Spain, the rise of the Swiss Alps on the horizon, the volatile chaos at an African border.
It took me a long time to realize that my travel history consisted of visiting small towns. That I’d spent years avoiding foreign cities. I’d become a traveler, not a tourist. I set out to witness—and be a part of—the small beauty of the everyday happenings in each new place. I met the people behind the pulse of each village, each township. I walked along the edges of the Mediterranean and through the fir trees of the Black Forest only to discover that I had been exchanging the beauty of my small town for other small towns. That’s when I began to consider that home might be an exotic destination worth exploring.
I was raised in an area of the United States surrounded by the houses, fields and words of Hawthorne, Alcott, Thoreau and Emerson. Each one a storyteller. A dreamer. Maybe if I spent some time exploring my own roots, I could also be a storyteller. And maybe I could still dream, with my feet up from time to time, relaxing in the grounded comforts of family and a snuggling dog.
In my writing, I’ll likely never escape the reoccurring theme of wanting to escape small town roots. And that is fine. Because everyone—fictional characters included—deserves the space in which to carve their particular journey.
S.M. Parker lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and sons. As a young adult, restlessness drove her to backpack throughout dozens of countries, adventures she found less intimidating than high school. She has since devoted her life to education and holds degrees from three New England universities. She can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter, ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel. Find her at ShannonMParker.com.