Clearly they have been traveling…

by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.


It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.


10 thoughts on “Clearly they have been traveling…

      • If you haven’t read I highly recommend you do and here’s why….. Immediately after reading “clearly they have been traveling” I read her post titled “details”. It was as if she was writing as YOUR future self, examing one possession within the context of “moving house” over a period of 40yrs. Reading those posts back to back as I did, was very ovewhelming but such is the power of great writing. Her blog–and yours–are such a treasure…I always learn more about myself after reading them.

        Enjoy your weekend, Dena!

  1. I love the picture of the whelk you took, and I have been grappling with the idea and what to call home, ever since I moved so many miles away from friends and family. To me home is a comfort, a place you can be yourself and accepted in and that you breathe a sigh of relief to return to. I don’t know if that makes sense, but defining home is much easier for a whelk for sure than us! 🙂

    • That’s a good point – he’s always home! Perhaps if I’d been raised in an RV I wouldn’t feel so rootless. Ha! Who knows. Good to know you’re figuring it out, too.

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