Many people cry when they leave home, but I’ve cried when I have to return. When my year as an exchange student ended, I sobbed. While I looked forward to seeing family and friends, I was leaving both a life-changing adventure and my first real love behind. I didn’t know when I’d be able to return.

A few years later, between my first and second semester in graduate school, I traveled sola through Costa Rica for almost a month. I seriously contemplated sending a postcard home telling my parents to sell my car and send the proceeds. Responsibility won in the end, and I traveled home and finished school. But I cried the night before I left. I’ve never been back.

My recent travels, in contrast, have been as tear-free as baby shampoo. I’ve finally reached a wonderful stage of life – one in which I love traveling, but I also love coming home. And for the record, I felt this way before we moved into our own house. I do love our house, but I also love our local friends, our community, and the rural-suburban blend of Petaluma.

That made leaving on our latest trip strange. We left for a (long-planned) vacation only two days into the Sonoma County wildfires. When we left – the fires uncontained, the air thick with smoke – we were unsure if we’d have house to return to. It was unnerving to leave, even though I knew I’d be useless to save our place if fire came.

The clean, beautiful Hawaiian air was better for my asthma. Still, everywhere we went, people asked about the fires. We checked the news more regularly than we otherwise would on vacation. My phone pinged with texts from worried friends and family. The constant stories of loss, the statistics on containment, the maps of destruction, they were everywhere. My heart broke, and it continues to ache, for those who lost their homes.

We’re so lucky. Not only to be able to travel, but to have a place to come home to – a place filled with stories of generosity and bravery. Firefighters who risked their lives, restaurateurs who fed evacuees and refused payment, churches and gyms that served as shelters. I loved Kauai, but I love Sonoma County more. And I love her and her people more now than ever!

Absolutely! (Warning: this leads to ear worm song.)

Just like home! Petaluma used to be the Chicken Capital of the World. Kauai is vying for the title.

This hike skirted the edge of cliffs, but didn’t try to kill me.

The only good flames. Hot rod — er, rusty truck — flames.

He may be selfie-averse, but he keeps me laughing! (Happy anniversary!)

Hey, Kauai, please send more of your rain our way!

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