"Dicey looked at the gravestones about her. She read an inscription: Home is the hunter, home from the hill, and the sailor home from the sea. What a thing to put on a grave. As if to say that being dead was home... Being dead wasn't being home, was it? Unless—and she remember what James had been saying last night—home was the place where you finally stayed, forever and ever. Then this person was home, and nobody would ever be truly home until he, or she, died. It was an awful thought."

In Chapter 7 of Part One, the children sleep in a graveyard after crossing the Connecticut River in a borrowed rowboat late at night. The next morning, Dicey comes across this gravestone and begins contemplating its message. The message returns to Dicey throughout her journey to Crisfield, most significantly when she and her siblings set out for Crisfield on the bus from Bridgeport, when she crosses the Chesapeake Bay and finds herself mesmerized by the constant motion of the waves, and when Gram abruptly asks her about death on their first meeting. This inscription becomes a sort of mantra for Dicey, and, despite her initial consternation at it, she begins to accept it not only as an accurate but a poignant statement. As she travels and fights for the survival of her siblings, Dicey gradually comes to realize that all aspects of life are impermanent, and even the permanence of home is illusory, as the people within homes are constantly growing and changing. With her understanding comes an increasing thirst for change and adventure.