Contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s dictum, you can indeed go home again. It’s just that there’s no guarantee home will be anything like the way you left it, if in fact it’s still there at all. Nor, flying in the face of Robert Frost’s oft-quoted wisdom, that when you go there, they’ll have to let you in.
It’s been 30 years since I first arrived in what would come to be known as the Emerald Triangle, 15 since I lived there in any meaningful way, and six since I left it for the last time. I’ve been meaning to go back for a visit ever since, but never seemed to find the time or energy. I kept in touch as much as possible through phone calls and letters with friends and family still living there, and by faithfully reading the region’s foremost news source, the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Even from afar, I could tell that things were changing in the old homeland, perhaps not always for the better.
Ever since I left I’ve had a series of recurring dreams in which I return to the land where I once lived and find that it’s been developed beyond all logic and proportion. Nine grueling miles from the nearest highway, almost 20 from the nearest town, completely off the grid, with water a scarce and iffy resource, and yet somehow a golf course and a vast lake would have materialized at the foot of my property. The dust, rock-strewn trail that served as a road would have been paved and lined with luxury homes directly overlooking my own, which during the years I lived there had been enfolded in a hillside and nestled in a grove of fir and pine, completely out of sight and mind from the rest of humanity.
Every time I’d have this dream, I’d get very upset, and it was never clear whether it was because I hadn’t been there to prevent this development, or hadn’t been there to participate in it. A bit of both, I suppose; while I’d loved my home and land just as they were, I also couldn’t help regretting having left before they’d become part of what was clearly a very upmarket community.
Once I woke up, of course, I’d laugh at such a ridiculous notion. Certainly there might come a time when the remote reaches of Spy Rock and Iron Peak were paved over and gentrified into luxury estates, but it wasn’t likely to be in my lifetime. Possibly my children’s or grandchildren’s — if I had any — but given the harsh realities of mountain life, even that seemed a stretch.
Crazy dreams aside, it was clear that the Emerald Triangle — the name given by marijuana eradication authorities to the counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity and enthusiastically embraced by the growers who comprised a hefty percentage of the citizenry — was, no matter how long I stayed away, still much on my mind. So in mid-August 2010, a good month or so before the ratcheting up of traffic and tension occasioned by the annual harvest, I borrowed my brother’s pickup truck and headed north up Highway 101, on a pilgrimage to the place I once called home.
I wanted to see more than just Spy Rock and Iron Peak; in fact I was out to take in the whole panorama and panoply of Mendocino and Humboldt — Trinity was too far off the map, and I’d never spent much time there anyway — in a mere two days. A ridiculous impossibility, as anyone who’s ever taken the better part of a day to drive from one corner of the county to the other can tell you, but I was going to give it a try.
My first stop was Boonville, principal city and, you could say, if there were such a thing, capital of the Anderson Valley, once home to rough-hewn ranchers and loggers, now one of the world’s premier wine-producing terroirs. Boonville may have grown only slightly in size in terms of population — for a long time it boasted 715 inhabitants but now may be pushing 800 or even a thousand — but the rough-hewn little cluster of shops, service facilities and watering holes has come close to transforming itself into — dare I say it? — an almost cute little boutique town. Put it this way: if I didn’t have specific business there, I might have found myself questioning whether I could afford to stop.
I had come to look in on Bruce Anderson, the legendary, larger-than-life editor and publisher of “America’s last newspaper,” the Anderson Valley Advertiser. I found him in his office situated above the Mosswood Market, one of Boonville’s classy new eating establishments, cordially heaping abuse on Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen, who had unwisely phoned to complain about his treatment in the previous week’s issue. “Wait until you see today’s paper,” Bruce cheerfully told the hapless Supe, “I all but accuse you of being an accessory to murder.”
I discovered the AVA shortly after coming to Mendocino County. Journalism appeared to be thriving in the small towns and backwoods in those days; almost anybody, it seemed, with a typewriter and a grudge could start his or her own publication. Which is exactly what I did, and soon Bruce was routinely reprinting articles from Lookout in his newspaper. Eventually I began writing stories specifically destined for the AVA, and even stood in as guest editor during one of his stints in the county jail, which might easily have been the pinnacle of my own journalistic career.
Sporting a jaunty straw boater and pressed white shirt, his beard rivaling that of Uncle Whiskers himself, Bruce seems to have finally found his niche: while the AVA may never rival the New York Times in scope or influence, it remains unquestionably the best newspaper of its kind in America if not the world. And what kind of newspaper is that? Trying to answer that question calls to mind what Bill Graham once said of the Grateful Dead: “It's not just that they're the best at what they do; they're the only ones that do what they do.”
Gone are the days when people routinely threaten to beat up, blow up, or lock up Bruce Anderson for what they perceive as his journalistic transgressions; although his writing is as hard-hitting and uncompromising as ever, he seems to have found a degree of acceptance or at least tolerance even among those who can’t stand his politics. Someday historians and filmmakers will beat a trail to Boonville trying to uncover the true story of our modern-day equivalent to Sam Clemens or H.L. Mencken, but in the meantime, Bruce is printing the news, raising hell, and enjoying the heck out of life.
My next stop was the village of Mendocino. Bruce glowered at my mention of the place. “It’s like a mausoleum,” he opined. “Personally, I like Fort Bragg.” I said I was considering taking a different route; instead of following Highway 128 (aka Boonville’s Main Street) right on out to the Coast Highway, I thought I’d explore the Comptche Road, which bypasses quite a few miles of twisting, tourist-clogged Highway 1 and comes out right at Mendocino itself.
Part of the attraction was that I’d never been to Comptche before; it was one of the few towns or villages in the county I hadn’t seen. “Is there anything there?” I asked Bruce. “No,” he said. “There’s a store. But it’s a beautiful drive.”
Bruce had underestimated the glories of Comptche, but not by much. There was a store, a volunteer fire department, and a stop sign (the only one between Boonville and the Coast), but there was also a row of pleasant-looking houses and, of course, a whole lot of trees. I nodded appreciatively as I passed through, but didn’t feel any need to hang about.
Bruce’s opinion notwithstanding, I really enjoyed Mendocino. His objection, I’m pretty sure, is that it’s a toytown, not a real town, a well-preserved but essentially ornamental remnant of the 19th century New England-style fishing village it stood in for on the long-running television show, Murder, She Wrote.
I’ve been there innumerable times over the last 40 years, and although I always appreciated the ambiance, I’d never felt as though I had a handle on the place. Some of my favorite memories were of dropping a bundle of Lookout magazines at Corners Of The Mouth, the long-running natural foods shop. I don’t know if Lookout would still be welcome there today, but I did discover a new issue of Beth Bosk’s Mendocino-based New Settler Interview, which goes back at least as far as the Lookout, and which actually interviewed me — well, I was a new settler, wasn’t I? — in 1986 on the subject of punk rock, a far cry from the magazine’s usual fare of full moon hemp fests and yurts woven from seaweed (and all kidding aside, the New Settler Interview will be a priceless resource to future historians of the region).
I didn’t have a lot of time, but managed to wander around a few streets near Mendocino’s “downtown,” and either the place has changed or I have, because I “got it” in a way that I never had before. Something I hadn’t previously noticed — maybe because they’re new, or because I wasn’t looking — is that between many of the old buildings there are pathways, some wood, some stone — that lead to hidden shops and gardens far more picturesque than those seen on the actual streets. It’s like a regular little hobbit town, I thought to myself, and even though it was the height of the summer tourist season, I had much of the place to myself.
It was quiet, so quiet, that when the slight whisper of an ocean breeze suddenly seemed to carry echoes of someone reciting Shakespeare, I wondered if I were hallucinating. A few more twists and turns along the path I was following, and I discovered a troupe of actors wearing costumes made from bedsheets and similar materials, rehearsing a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a lush green garden. I supposed that explained why, a few minutes earlier, I’d encountered a laurel-garlanded Puck strolling nonchalantly down Lansing Street.
Despite Bruce’s enthusiastic recommendation of a bakery in the center of Fort Bragg, I didn’t feel as though I had time to stop there, and besides, it being after 6 pm by now, the town was closing down for the night. I think I know what Bruce likes about Fort Bragg; I’ve always enjoyed its unpretentious and unassuming charms myself. But I’ve also seen it as a junior version of Eureka, a similarly fog-shrouded and timber-dominated town to the north, which was my destination for the night. Considering how far I still had to go, I thought it best to keep driving.
I’d forgotten how precipitous and spectacular the Coast Highway gets north of Fort Bragg, and how slow it could be, even when there’s very little traffic. I passed through Cleone, which failed to make any more of an impression on me than it had the previous hundred times, and Westport, which for no particular reason has always struck me as a cloying, claustrophobic place despite its setting on the ocean shore in the middle of nowhere.
Shortly after Westport is the Branscomb Road, the rugged and only partially paved (at least in my day) shortcut to Laytonville and Highway 101, and having already had my fill of the Coast Highway’s curves and cutbacks, I was tempted to take it. But I wanted to leave Laytonville, my former hometown, for last, so I stuck to the Coast Highway, which joins 101 at Leggett, 21 miles north.
From there it’s a relatively straight shot to Eureka, but there was no way I was going to pass Garberville without stopping. Garberville might not be much to look at in some people’s eyes (Bruce had shared that opinion), but I’d spent many happy hours there, especially during the years when I was doing a radio show on KMUD. Redwood Drive, aka Main Street, is about three blocks long, and there’s a couple more streets to the east of it, creating the feel of an old-fashioned small town that’s missing from many North Coast communities, which tend to follow the ex-urban sprawl model of development, as in string a row of shops and gas stations along the highway so as to make walking anywhere unpleasant if not downright impossible.
The downside of Garberville’s being a very walkable town is that its streets have increasingly become home to increasing numbers of feral young — and not so young — people who’ve generated quite a bit of tension among the usually tolerant locals. Garberville now has something called a Town Square, I discovered — I remember it as a dirt and gravel parking lot, but now it’s nicely if a bit austerely landscaped — but apparently it’s become a bit too popular with what Jane Jacobs used to call the “leisured indigent,” at least judging from what the townspeople are saying about it.
When I went over to investigate, the Square was deserted apart from a trio of elderly tie-dyed hippies; examining them from a distance, I couldn’t tell whether or not they were the sort of clientele the Square was designed to attract. But across the street a female shopkeeper and a couple rough and ready townies were having a spirited discussion about banding together and chasing “those bums” out of town by whatever means necessary.
“If you’re out in the bars tonight,” she admonished the young men, “put the word out. We’re not putting up with this crap anymore, and if it takes some serious ass kicking to get them out of our town, then that’s just what we’re going to have to do.”
The Redwood Times carried letters voicing a similar sentiment, albeit in the more decorous manner you would expect of a print journal. Apparently the Veterans Grove had had to be closed because of the damage being done by transients, and there was a good deal of ill will being generated by the begging and petty theft that has supposedly become a regular feature of life in central Garberville. The first — only, actually — person I passed on Redwood Drive offered a friendly greeting, but before I could finish thinking, “Now that’s something I miss about small town country life,” he followed it up by asking me for a dollar, at which point I quickly reverted to New York mode and breezily told him, “Sorry, buddy!”
Let’s just say Garberville was not looking its best — metaphysically, I mean; physically, it looked as nice as ever — and I didn’t feel inclined to linger, nor even to stop in at Treats or Calico for a coffee or snack. Besides, it was already starting to get dark, and I still had a good little ride ahead of me.
In theory, it shouldn’t take much more than an hour to journey from Garberville to Eureka, but in practice it almost always takes longer, as well it should, since you’re essentially traveling between two different worlds. Well, bioregions, anyway. Southern Humboldt, anchored by Garberville, is mountainous, covered with fir and, in parts, redwood, is much hotter in summer and colder in winter, and without the marijuana trade, would probably dry up and blow away. Northern Humboldt, of which Eureka is the undisputed capital, though Arcata would like to think it stakes a convincing alternative claim, begins when the mountains give way to the coastal plain, when marijuana and logging give way to dairy farms and sawmills, and the temperature is dropped anywhere from 10 to 50 degrees by the near-constant summer fogs that come billowing in from the sea.
On the cusp between the two regions come the twin towns of Scotia and Rio Dell, the former being a picture-perfect and often picturesque company town of the sort that you generally only read about in history books, and the latter being a forlorn and desolate — desperate also comes to mind — shadow of what was once apparently a thriving commercial and cultural center. I rarely pass by Scotia and Rio Dell without taking a quick detour through one or the other, but Scotia, with its neat, almost fussy dimensions and rows of identically matching houses, is best seen by day. Twilight having already fallen with a resounding thud, it seemed the better choice to cruise through the absent heart of Rio Dell and brighten my spirits with the awareness that, barring an unforeseen catastrophe of Olympian proportions, I would never have to live there.
One of my first visits to Rio Dell came in the wake of an earthquake that had wreaked considerable havoc along the main drag. That was something like 15 or 20 years ago, however, and, to be brutally honest, things haven’t measurably improved since. There it sits, sulking and marinating in its misery, defying you to pity or scorn it. Rio Dell just doesn’t care what you think of it, or, one suspects, much else, either.
The precious — and, admittedly, slightly cloying town of Ferndale, steeped in Victorian elegance and stuffiness, is usually worth a look, but not tonight; I sped on to Eureka, looking forward to a quick late night wander around Old Town, a burrito from Amigas, and, at long last, sleep. But first I had to find my hotel. I’d never heard of the joint before, but I’d picked it because it appeared to be situated slightly away from the highway noise that plagues most of the hotels lining the main drags of Fourth and Fifth Streets. Oh, and because according to reviews on Trip Advisor, it was also one of the few Eureka hotels not infested with tweakers and crackheads.
Thanks, however, to Eureka’s system of one-way streets, a few unclear signs, and the heavy mist accumulating on my windshield faster than my barely functioning wipers could clear it away, I completely failed to find the hotel on my first pass through town and found myself most of the way to Arcata before I could find a place to turn around. “I know,” I thought, none too astutely, “I’ll go the rest of the way into Arcata, stop somewhere and look up the address of the hotel in the phone book.”
Okay, laugh at me for being stuck in the 20th century, which is apparently when telephone books were last seen at pay phones. And no, I don’t have one of those fancy cell phones that hooks up to the internet, and I’m not even sure how you dial information (does 411 still work?) from a cell phone. Well, I think I could probably manage it, but I’m not going to pay two bucks or whatever they’re charging these days. So I went driving back to Eureka, and after only three more circumnavigations of the north end of town, found the place I was looking for.
I was the last guest of the night to arrive, and they’d reserved a special room for me: one of the few that overlooked the scenic vista of Highway 101. “I imagine it can get kind of noisy what with all the trucks gearing down as they hit the city limits,” I ventured to the desk clerk. “Oh yes,” she cheerfully replied, “especially around 5 am, when they all start pulling out from the trucking company around the corner.”
By pulling an especially long face, I got her to transfer me to the only remaining room, a wheelchair-accessible one. I felt a little guilty over the possibility that a disabled person might turn up in the middle of the night and be left without a place to lay his head, and also a little fearful that I’d get a 3 am knock on the door asking me to pack up my belongings and move back to an able-bodied room, but all was well, I slept comfortably, and around 10 or 11 am headed downtown to look in on Hank Sims, editor of the North Coast Journal.
The Journal, like the AVA in Mendocino County, is actually thriving these days, so much so that it has just moved into an attractive suite of offices in the heart of Old Town. Hank’s corner office overlooks the plaza and gazebo that used to be the haunt of derelicts and street punks — not always easily distinguishable from each other — but now looks downright respectable, if a bit sparsely populated. Hank assured me that only a few days earlier a thousand or more people had crowded into Old Town for the monthly art walk, making it feel “like a real city.”
We took a stroll down to the waterfront, where I spent a lot of time during my Northern Humboldt days. I was chagrined to find that the floating dock at the foot of F Street was no longer there. A number of other decaying or decrepit buildings, pilings and moorings had also gone missing; in their place was a newly constructed boardwalk (which, I sniffily noted, was composed not of boards, but of concrete cast in the general shape of boards).
Although I honestly thought the waterfront looked nicer as a mostly abandoned ruin, the boardwalk seemed more likely to draw in the sort of tourists that Eureka needs to replace the timber and fishing industries that used to sustain it. Fox News types might decry it — and maybe with some justification — as a “Boardwalk to Nowhere,” as it only goes about two blocks before coming into a dead end at a construction site where, Hank told me, the city was erecting a “Fisherman’s Terminal” that, if all goes well, will serve both as tourist attraction and as a processing center where what’s left of the North Coast fishing fleet can unload its catch. Hopefully this project will be successful, but should it not, Fox News fans will be mightily cheered to learn that it was paid for with federal stimulus dollars.
Then we walked past the iconic Carson Mansion, home of the mysterious invitation-only Ingomar Club, which only recently began admitting women and has long been the subject of scabrous and salacious rumors among the 95% or so of the townspeople who have never been allowed to enter its hallowed precincts. Those who have tell me there’s nothing particularly titillating about it, that if anything, the Ingomar resembles a New World version of the gentlemen’s club to which Bertie Wooster regularly repaired. It’s also worth noting that had the Ingomar boys not purchased the Carson Mansion in 1949, it most likely would have fallen victim to the wrecking ball.
Back in the heart of Old Town, I was cheered to see that the 135-year-old Vance Hotel, one of the largest all-wooden structures in California, had been rescued from a similar fate. When I last visited Eureka, the Vance, painted in a faded, garish purple, was literally falling apart and seemed to have no viable future; now it’s been lovingly restored and repainted and appears to be thriving, as have several other Old Town Buildings. Several others have vanished, however, some under mysterious circumstances: for instance, a preservation battle over three historic buildings that inconveniently stood where the Vance Hotel developers wanted to locate their parking lot fell victim to a fire of undetermined origin. Such fires — you might refer to them as instant urban renewal projects, I suppose — have long been a feature along the Eureka waterfront, much as they have in Fort Bragg, a hundred miles to the south.
All in all, though, Eureka is looking better and more hopeful than I’ve seen it since, well, since ever, and I shouldn’t forget to mention the new art museum situated in what had been California’s first Carnegie Library (“Before San Francisco,” the lady at the desk informed us), and the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts, with its spectacular Duane Flatmo mural. But by now it was getting late in the day and I had to do a lightning look-in on Arcata if I was to make it to my personal Mecca of Spy Rock Road while it was still daylight.
I met a friend on the Plaza, which looked greener and cleaner than I remembered; even the perennial hippie layabouts and hacky sackers looked as though they’d been given a County-mandated spray wash. We had lunch at Hey Juan, an ersatz Mexican-hippie fusion joint that anywhere but Humboldt would probably be regarded as a crime against burritology, but which I remember fondly and I enjoyed as much as ever (Eureka’s Amigas is its sister establishment, featuring a similar menu with a slightly more hardscrabble clientele). Then it was back to the Plaza by way of a fancy-schmancy organic ice cream parlor situated in what had once been the living room of some old Arcata buddies.
My verdict on Arcata, based on maybe an hour and a half tour: slightly more bourgie than I remember it, but as lovely as ever. With a wave to the upstairs apartment on 10th Street where Green Day played the first show of their first national tour in 1990, I swung out onto Highway 101 and made tracks for Laytonville.
How many hundreds — no, I suppose it must have been thousands — of times did I make that turn off the highway onto the rutted old track of Spy Rock Road? I used to amuse myself by imagining that my car was a plane coming in for a landing, that the sudden jolt as my tires left the tarmac and bit into dirt and gravel was like the landing gear hitting the runway after a long transatlantic flight.
I braced myself for that sensation, but it never came: to my shock, astonishment, and perhaps a little horror, I discovered that Spy Rock Road had been PAVED. It was as though my recurring nightmare was coming to life. Admittedly, it made for more pleasant driving, especially in my brother’s truck, which wasn’t really cut out for mountain roads, but something just didn’t feel right.
Pavement or not, Spy Rock is still steep and winding enough that it has to be taken in second gear, and after a couple miles, the pavement did peter out, only to reappear farther up, this time with actual lane markings! The old fashioned locked gate leading down to one subdivision had been replaced with a sleek new solar-powered model, and the Spy Rock School, flanked by trees and play fields, looked a far cry from its origins as a couple of double wide trailers. Then it was time to leave the county road and head up Iron Peak into the serious backwoods.
Even that road had been improved considerably, but the truck still heaved and bucked and sent up a satisfying cloud of dust in its wake. At the top of the ridge I met up with a couple old friends to admire the sunset. This particular ridge looks out onto the ocean in one direction and all the way to the Yolla Bollys in the other; the only higher point is the now-abandoned lookout tower on Iron Peak itself, which is now no longer accessible, thanks to some yuppies who bought the property below it and threw a gate across the road.
The ridge top is about 4,000 feet (Iron Peak tops out around 4,600), and anyone coming or going from the back side of the mountain has to cross over it. As a result, people would often leave their vehicles parked there when snow was expected, and since the only roads in or out cross there, it has always been the site of impromptu or planned meetings. One of my fonder memories involves spending the night splayed out on the hood of an old pickup truck watching the Perseids meteor shower light up the mountain skies. On many a Tuesday night I’d park up there because it was the only place in the county where I could pick up KPFA in Berkeley and its broadcast of the Maximum Rocknroll radio show.
Tonight’s sunset was especially spectacular, with a crescent moon flanked by a couple of planets trailing close behind the sun as it sank into an orange and crimson cloudbank. Down below — the land fell away sharply from the edge of the road — I saw someone bustling about on his land before hopping on to one of those ubiquitous 4-track bikes and heading up the road in our direction.
“He’s coming to tell us to get off the road,” my friend said, gesturing at some newly placed “No Parking” signs nailed to several fir trees.
“What the…?” I sputtered. “People have been parking up here for at least the last 30 years. How can he tell people they can’t?”
“Well, ask him, because here he comes.”
And sure enough, there he was, maybe in his late 20s or early 30s, most likely tweaked out on coke or speed, judging from the nervous, twitchy way he handled himself, “respectfully requesting” (his words) that we move along and enjoy the view from some vantage point that didn’t overlook his land.
“We’re not on your land; this a public road,” I pointed out, and then immediately regretted my word choice, because of course technically it isn’t; all the roads once you leave Spy Rock are privately owned and maintained by the local Road Association. However, until you get to the locked gates on the back side of the mountain, they’re open to anyone having legitimate business up there. My two friends and I having spent a collective total of some 80 years on that mountain, and one friend having literally grown up just across the road, I figured we had as much right as anyone to be there.
“We’ll be leaving once we’re finished watching the sunset,” I told him, “but as someone who’s had a lot of experience living up here, I might suggest that if you keep trying to chase people away from your land, you’re likely to arouse suspicions.”
“I don’t care,” he said, “I’ve only got 24 plants” (24 being one fewer than the generally understood limit for marijuana growers who wish to be left alone by the authorities).
“I’m not really interested,” I said, “I’m just trying to point out that if you keep making this kind of fuss, sooner or later you’ll run into someone that is. I lived up here for more than 20 years and never once have I seen anyone try to tell someone they couldn’t stop on this road.”
“Well, I lived in Southern Humboldt for 12 years and I’ve got two other grow sites in Brooktrails, so don’t try to tell me about it. Anyway, this isn’t a road, dude. Read your deed. It’s an easement, as in ease on down to where you’re going.”
I could see this dialogue wasn’t going anywhere, and in the process I was missing much of the sunset. Thankfully at that point another car and a motorcycle stopped about a hundred feet away and he went over to remonstrate with them. “Dude, that’s not cool, bro,” I could hear the other car’s driver protest, and that trailed off into a lengthy argument that luckily lasted until the sunset was done and the stars had overtaken the sky.
We walked back to the house shaking our heads about the whole affair, but I found it useful in one regard: in advance of revisiting Spy Rock, I’d been afraid I’d be overcome with remorse at having left, and sure enough, at first I had. All those sights and sounds and smells of the mountains — of all Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, actually — not only brought back memories, but seemed to take on a whole new beauty and wonder. For the many years I lived there, they were routine backdrops to my comings and goings, no more remarkable, it seemed, than the various stores and houses I pass daily as I wander though my neighborhood in Brooklyn.
But now, experiencing them with fresh senses, it became self-evidently obvious to me that I had spent those years living in one of the most amazing places on earth and somehow, except for the occasional epiphany, had utterly failed to notice. “Oh, if only I’d stuck around a little longer,” I caught myself thinking, only to remember, thanks to our encounter with the paranoid speed freak, exactly why I hadn’t.
There’s a part of me that would still like to come back to Mendocino County, maybe a little closer to town this time, maybe where I wouldn’t have to fight a running battle with the elements and where at least some of my neighbors wouldn’t be industrial strength pot growers, but there’s another part of me that recognizes the chances of that happening are slim. If anything, the best thing I could take away from my journey to the old homeland is the vivid reminder to pay attention to and cherish where I am today.