We have been thinking, lately, of moving to a small, simple, homey house perched up the hill from a wooded creek, a few miles away. Naturally, we have been discussing the pros and cons of relocating versus staying where we are. On the one hand, we would like to live in a woodland setting, the house is newly cleaned and refurbished, and maintaining the property would require less time and energy than where we live now. On the other, I have been planting and tending the gardens and habitat around our current home for 18 years now, the knotty pine kitchen I love was made by my son’s own hands, and the small bit of woodland I have planted in front of the house has finally, this past fall, hosted squirrels. We have been thinking about the decision for almost a month and a couple of days ago a new perspective was, unexpectedly, granted.
Interestingly, and at a surprisingly appropriate moment, my daughter recently posted a piece about loss on her own blog, A View From Wood Road (see side link). We all know loss of some sort or another. Sometimes it is of lesser importance and sometimes of much greater, sometimes of tangible objects, people or relationships and sometimes of hopes, dreams and ideals. Recently I received a letter from someone very dear to me, that caused me to face the fact that I have spent a good many years of my life hoping for something that was already gone, long before I ever had the chance to search for it. He wrote about the changes the years have brought to the culture and people of the Appalachian mountains and about the fact that he, himself, missed what used to be, a few generations back. As I read his words, I realized that, intellectually, I had known what he said was true, but in my heart of hearts for all these years, I have hoped that it wasn’t. I have hoped for the chance to return to Kentucky and find some remnant of what has been lost, some whisper of how it used to be long ago. I hadn’t put that longing into words until reading his letter and I was suddenly faced with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen, that it was too late, and actually, that it had been too late for a long time.
In trying to sort through the rush emotions his letter provoked, I did what I always do when I need to think-I walked. I took my usual route past woods and fields, past the creek and the oxbow and, though the way was familiar, I paid scant attention to my surroundings, busy as I was wiping the tears out of my eyes. After a while, my senses finally awakened to what was happening around me and I began to pay attention. The phoebes were back on territory and singing exuberantly, joined by a particularly noisy flicker. Where previously there had been one lone, belted kingfisher, now there were three, calling and chasing one another up and down the creek. In the field, an Amish farmer and his eight mules were busy plowing, readying the land for planting and I wondered if he felt at home on his own land, doing what he has done for so many years. I thought about the fact that I never wanted to be from here, but that here is where I am. I always wanted to be from, and live in, the mountains, but except for a couple of years in college, that wish has been denied me. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to feel at home somewhere, I just haven’t been able to figure out or find just where that might be.
And then, surprisingly, as I walked in the early light of a new day, the raucous sounds of spring all around me, I finally realized where my homeplace is. It is here-looking out over these meadows, living in this house and tending the land I have been given. Perhaps someday we may move after all, but it won’t be in search of what I have thought was lacking.
Sometimes loss seems so keenly unbearable and without reason. And it almost always hurts. But sometimes, in spite of the pain, the longing and the grief, loss can be a doorway into what lies ahead. Whether we walk through that door, and embrace the opportunity given, is up to us.