Wish You Were Here

An American Vagabond in Britain

Posted by [email protected] on October 23, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Here's the rough draft of the intro for my new book.



“This amazing voyage starts on a somber note but the music of that note makes the rest of the song oh, so sweet.”

-Brad L. Johnson


I did not know then that my journey had already begun. No bags were packed, no plans had been made. I had no tickets and no maps. I am standing in a hallway peering through a slit in the partially open door. A breeze of silence came from the bed where my mother lay...she was dying. It is May 29th, 2008. I had been summoned here by my father to see to his hospice care in December of 2002. At the end of his time, I was given the mission to care for my mom until now, when her final journey was to begin. Five and a half years had passed. During those years, after innumerable doctor visits, treatments, laughter, tears and a pilgrimage of my siblings and their families, I was soon to be set adrift into a world I was no longer familiar with. I had not held a “regular” job since 2000, I had opened the Blister Mill Artist Village and within those walls had created an art gallery, concert hall, coffee house, recording studio and used book store. I had written and had published two books. As mom had deteriorated, I had divested myself of all of these distractions. The anchor that held my “life” boat fast to shore was gone. I had acquired some land on a mountaintop in New Mexico and with my brother’s help had built a yurt but I knew I wasn’t ready for that life yet. The time would come when I could survive the harsh Winter, nurture my own food from the soil and spend a languorous Summer and Fall writing the novels that were piling up in my head. And maybe...just maybe, find someone to share it with. But that time was not now, the wanderlust must be satiated. The excuse I concocted to execute this endeavor (to write a book of course) soon became a viable reality, much to my surprise. Since I had next to no world travel experience, very little money and a penchant for flying by the seat of my pants rather than actually planning anything out, the thrust of the book would become this query:

“What would happen to an American plopped down into Britain with very little resources, save his ability to talk to anybody as though he had known them forever ?”

Was I, then, to be a “hobo”...or perhaps the better word was “tramp” ? Both those words conjured images of either a raggedly dressed bum with coal for a beard jumping on and off freight trains and eating out of a tin around a trash can fire...or worse, a “poor walker” looking for an unlocked door, begging for change or food and one step away from becoming an outlaw. No, the proper word it seems, was “vagabond”.


The Philosophy of Vagabonding

Granted, while being basically the same, the idea of vagabonding is embracing a completely different attitude and lifestyle. A vagabond is a friend to society. Instead of shunning the fellowship of strangers...he seeks it out. Rather than roaming without reason or cause, he has set out to learn, to overcome illusions to shake off prejudices and old habits. He learns to be open to the beauty of Nature and it’s wildness. He liberates himself from the assumptions of his everyday life. He learns to be humble. He leaves the role he has played for so long, the many facets that make up a lifestyle; worker, tax-payer, voter, father, son, husband, lover and joins the ranks of true Bohemians, pilgrims, explorers afoot and walking tourists and puts on his plain clothes and picks up his rucksack and he is gone.


I tried to prepare to become a vagabond. I knew how to sleep outdoors and cook on a campfire. I knew how to get around on a budget (been doing that all my life). I knew how to read a map, stay safe. These are things you teach yourself...for the rest Nature and the act of vagabonding itself will teach you. From them you will learn what is beautiful, and who you are and where you should go. If you are lucky they will teach you what your quest is in life. They will teach you to relax in the presence of the great healer and teacher, humanity. So I turned my back on all that I had learned in schools, museums, theatres and galleries and stretched out my arms to the hidden gifts of vagabonding. One was a yearning for moonbeams and stars, another to listen with new ears to bird’s songs and the murmer of trees and streams. It taught me much more as these stories will tell. You may call it a memoir, a mere travelogue of records and facts. But it is the day-book of my soul during that journey. Vagabonding brought a new poetry into my life. Vagabonding is a “gentle art” and in creating it I received an artist joy to that creation.

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