Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Homeplace

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.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

What you say about our home makes me realize how beautiful the place where I grew up truly is. I'm glad that you feel it is your homeplace after living there so long. I'm glad your staying and that the garden will be beautiful again this year! bekah

Joanna said...

Mom,
Thank you so much for these posts. You are a beautiful writer, mother and woman. I am glad that you can think about home as home, not that it is what you have always wanted, but you have made it something beyond what the rest of us could have ever imagined. And it is most certainly home to me. The oxbow, the horizon over the back field, the Heistands farm, the daffodils that keep coming up in big clumps, the white crowned sparrows that I thought about as I walked this morning. I though about how I would like to put up bluebird boxes someday.

Thank you for sharing and writing. Much love, Joanna

Ann said...

Bekah and Joanna,
These words, coming from you two, are the greatest affirmation I could ever have about efforts I have put into our homeplace. In the words of Marilla, "you have been my joy and my comfort" all these years and I am very thankful that we have had this place to be together, along with Jon, of course.
Thanks, to each of you, for what you wrote and for your love.
Mom

Joe Kearns said...

These are beautiful thoughts, and true. Contentment is such a rare thing, and so fine. We so often and for so long search for it as if it were something to be found, while all along it is something to be chosen.
I would guess that you have read Wendell Berry. Though I am not an agrarian, mostly because I think there is no way back to that world, yet I love and affirm his emphasis on place and home. Have you read "Jayber Crow" and "The Memory of Old Jack"? If not, I'll bet you'd enjoy them. Also (not by Berry) the wonderful novel, "Gilead".

Though Barb and I moved from our hometown and refused an opportunity to return in our 20's, we have come to believe that proximity to family and friends is one of the highest goods. I hope our children all settle very nearby. We must all rediscover home and a sense of place.

Ann said...

Joe,
Thanks for reading and for commenting. What a treat! Interestingly, you are the 4th person in the last 2 weeks to mention Wendell Berry to me and I have gotten some of his books from the library and am reading away. And, interestingly again, the first I have chosen to read is The Art of the Commonplace Agrarian Essays. I started here for a couple of reasons. The first is that I already have a feeling that much of what he writes is going to be my thoughts in his own words... in other words, I already think in a similar vein in many matters of life. I have studied agriculture, milked cows, worked the earth and love the land, as he does. I have a feeling that he and my uncle, who wrote the letter I referred to, would get along extremely well. Did you take note of the essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation? It says well what I also believe to be true, sadly, of the Church and its relationship to the Creation.
Thanks again for commenting.
Blessings,
Ann