Building a relationship, a true, nitty gritty, down to the bones relationship, is not easy. Nor is it immediate, always gratifying or automatic, especially once the honeymoon is over.
Finding a sense of home and place is a type of relationship building, more multi-faceted perhaps than the usual getting-to-know-you-ness between people. Or rather, getting to know place commands respect, patience and time, because the person you are getting to know is ancient, has a history you can barely comprehend, and comes from a big family. Also, you are not the first person to be in relationship to this place, so you can just forget about monogamy and instead you must work with your jealousy and displacement as you explore polyamory.
The concept of owning land is a funny one to me, given the inherent impossibility in owning a person unless we’re talking about slavery or captivity. Obviously, this is what land ownership often boils down to…the enslavement of land through destructive industrial agriculture or the imprisonment of space, surrounded by fences and no trespassin’ signs. Ownership can also be protection, as in the case of privately owned wildlife reserves, or national parks. However odd and difficult the topic may be, I currently am grappling with the dilemma of how to develop deep relationship to place when one’s station is temporary, when we are only passing through. We are transients on the Earth through default, and at some point we all leave. But while we are here, how do we commit ourselves to the bonds forged through delving deep, as a Non-Homeowner, without the shelter of the yard or the corner of the forest you can call your own, especially when the safety of a private container is required?
I have many favorite spots in the world, ones that don’t belong to me. But there are just a few that I belong to, and with one in particular, it is time to say goodbye.
We are currently in the last days of selling our home in Shasta County, a process that has been like the slow peeling of skin, and one I have already written about copiously on here. With ridiculous consistency, my experience upon setting foot on homeland this past weekend was one of validation, three dimensionality and acute missing-you-ness. I have faith in new beginnings, new connections that will deepen over time, but nothing…absolutely nothing…can compare with an old friend. The way I feel known and seen, and what I know and see, when I walk through the orchard and stand by the back fence, is incomparable to any other place and time. And I think, as a human-animal, as a child, overwhelmed by a volatile world, there was something very essential to being able to say This place is mine. Private ownership of place makes it feel safer (perhaps universally or perhaps just to me) to put down roots, and to open to the raw vulnerability of loving life. Fleeting, not-here-forever, life.
I am tempted to couch my experience in philosophical, zen-ish platitudes, about the importance of meeting the starkness of impermanence with a warrior’s heart. Yet, I feel more honest in speaking from the grip as the yet-unenlightened. I agree with Mary Oliver when she said in her poem The Oak Tree at the Entrance to Blackwater Pond, What I loved, I mean, was that tree, tree of the moment, tree of my own sad, mortal heart. Because what feels important to say is that this is real, this love of home and land and place. The pain and grief inherent in saying goodbye, of leaving, of selling…is real.
Mystery fuzzy pods at Vulture Flats
Another mystery. A lily I think. Any of my botany allies (Dolly? Mama Jax?) have a clue?
This weekend we go up north again, selling furniture, making trips to the Goodwill. My truck, Trixie-Belle, is up and running and in a surprising turn of events, I think we’ll be bringing her home. And would you listen to that…bringing her home. It might be a forced relocation, it may ring in my heart like an absolute lie, but my hope is that as we move our center of gravity, somehow, someway, someday I will be sitting beside Crane Creek with my daughter and I will laugh in sudden recognition and delight at the sense of familiarity, of being greeted like an old friend by water and stone.
In the meantime, I am turning my chest into a U-haul, or a Tardis (bigger on the inside) and filling it with the silhouette of that oak tree, that Tujhalo pine, the smell of my lilac bush, and the rest, the spirit and soul, I will graft onto my bones.
ELEGY FOR A WALNUT TREE
by W.S. Merwin
Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world
It’s just true, this way of seeing, knowing, loving. There’s nothing more to say. Just to feel.