Torn between security of home and a whisper on the wind that said <i> be your own man!</i> : Heeding the Winds of Change

His name is Marty. I last saw him at the front of the house, his tan Toyota bulging with the bare essentials of a life he was about to start. At 20, he was heading out on his own, responding to a whisper of independence that was blowing in the wind, a call to see new places and hear new sounds.

I asked him how he felt as we stood together near the large oak that sheltered the driveway, where we had stood so many times before. He smiled slightly and said, “A little nervous, I guess.”

“That’s pretty normal,” I said. “We’ve all gone through it. But sooner or later a kid’s got to leave the nest. It’s scary, but we stumble on through somehow. You’ll do all right.”

“I hope so. I’m going to try.”


“I know you will.”

We talked for a long time. I was trying to come up with the kind of advice that might do him some good as he began building an adulthood high up at the northern end of California, where the redwoods march to the edge of the sea, where a roaring surf dares the granite cliffs.

But all I could come up with were a lot of rambling basics Marty had already mastered simply by reaching 20. Drive carefully, work hard, be honest, clean your room, keep the music down, do your homework and, for God’s sake, leave my clothes alone.

“Your clothes are safe,” he said, laughing. “I won’t be here, remember?”


So he won’t.

That’s going to take some getting used to. An empty boy’s room with posters on the wall. No rock music rattling the windows. The vacancy. The silence.


He had actually decided months ago that L.A. was no longer for him. It wasn’t an easy decision. He was torn between the security of life at home and a whisper on the wind that said be your own man! That said spread your wings, boy! That said fly!


The voice in his head was compelling, and in the end he responded to the call that came from beyond the distance, from the shadows of the ridge line, from the sunlight in the glades.

I considered trying to talk him out of the north coast as his destination. Eureka isn’t exactly a land of opportunity. The weather isn’t ideal.

But I kept my silence because opportunity is what you make it to be, and because someone told me a long time ago that a man grows tall under dark skies, when the storm howls and the rain falls, and I think now I know what he meant.

Mart was simply following my lead. I have always loved the open land and have talked about it for years. He must have been listening.


The north coast is honest country. Redwoods dwarf our fussy priorities, and the wild rivers rush down from the mountains with a strength that defies containment. There are lessons there for the young, far beyond what I could teach on the front porch, with only minutes left.

Still, there had to be something I could say, something vital, something important, something to strengthen him in the hard times, to cheer him in the sad times. Something real, something fine. Something . . .

Not that I haven’t had the opportunity to do all that before. I’ve known the boy for a lot of years. It’s just that I never got around to it, or maybe I didn’t even know what to say then, or maybe I was just too damned preoccupied with writing words and meeting deadlines and responding to the whispers in my own head.

Time is measured by different standards. We had an apple tree in the yard once and I used to promise myself that Mart and I were going to go off somewhere and talk before the apples were all gone. I’d tell him what life was all about and prepare him for the tomorrows which then seemed so distant.


But I never did, not that way, and then one day I’d realize that the last apple had fallen from the tree and it was too late. Time had passed and I hadn’t even noticed.

Damn me and damn the days that fly too fast, the years that flicker by like fireflies in the night.

“Well,” he said with a mixture of reluctance and anticipation, “I guess I’d better leave.”

I nodded. “The traffic shouldn’t be too bad,” I said.


Is that what I would leave him with? A traffic report? That’s all?

We shook hands, the small hand grown large that I had once held as we walked through the summers of his youth, the hand I had touched as he slept in a crib long turned to kindling, the hand I had taken to pull him up over a hilltop where we hiked.

“So long, Dad.”

“So long, Mart.”


We hugged, and as we did it suddenly came to me, advice beyond planning, a word drawn from that area within us where all good instincts are born.

I said simply, “Care.”

And then my son’s car pulled from the driveway, and then it was a disappearing blur of tan down a long and winding road, and then it was gone. I stood there for a very long time, listening to the wind blow.