Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: "The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse"

It used to be that whenever I bought a Sunday paper I would go straight for the travel section. Only after thoroughly absorbing the photography, articles of interest, and airfares would I move on to the arts section and, finally, the pet section of the classifieds. These days, however, I go straight for the realty section. As a matter of fact, today I didn't even look at the travel section. It still sits, untouched, on the dining room table where it will probably stay until the next recycling day rolls around. It has been this way for weeks, maybe even months.

I'm not sure when I traded the idea of travel in for real estate, but it seems to have happened when I wasn't paying attention. It might even be due to the accumulative effect of too many white walls that surround me in this rented bungalow. I don't know, but one thing I am sure of is that Vinny and I want a house that we can call our own. I want to paint and garden and do the sorts of things that make me feel like I belong to a place. And that is something that we do not feel here.

These past two years have been made of transitions. I moved from the country to a small town and to a small town to a big city--and, with each move, the only thing that I have been sure of is the loss of stars.

You see, I come from a place where the nights are so dark that the stars alone are thick enough to swallow you whole, a place where the Milky Way ropes itself through an impenetrable firmament, a place where the effects of a dancing aurora borealis is enough to steal your breath away. I come from a place of pine and poplar, sugar maple and giant oaks. I come from a place of mist and marshes, dark soil and blue lakes, from a place of owls and moon dogs and glacial moraines and walleye and white-tailed deer. I come from a place with a short growing season, a place of extremes. And sometimes...sometimes I wonder why I ever left that place at all.

But then I remember: I left for a lot of reasons.

Since moving to the city I feel like there is a part of me that is only observing myself from the outside. I am lucky because we happened to find a house in the city that is bordered by woods. Daily, I walk the ridge and see myself placing one foot in front of the other. The unpaved terrain is rougher up there and there are fewer people. That is, of course, what brings me there. It is the place that feels the most like "home"--the place where, for a moment, all of my selves merge back into one.

Last week, while working at the garden shop, I met an elderly gentleman from New York. We started talking about life and books and writing and I ended up telling him about my project and how I was trying to write about the ways in which we struggle to find our sense of place. It turns out that he is working on a book of his own and, although his is photography, there is a common thread between our projects. Maybe it is even a common thread that runs though all of us. He shared with me quotes from his journal. One of them, by Scott Russell Sanders, read:
"I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded to a place." ~excerpt from Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World
These days I haven't quite figured out where I belong. Or maybe I haven't figured out where it is that I want to belong. I lack a geographical center. I live in a house that is not my own, in a city I do not yet understand. I work and walk and eat and breathe and do all of the things that I need to do--and yet I don't quite belong to any of it. Vinny and I go back and forth between wanting to find a place in the city, somewhere close to the center of things, and a deep desire for the privacy and space that we once knew. With one, we lose the other. Despite our best efforts, there seems to be nothing "in between." There are the suburbs but, no. I cannot stand even the thought of the dumb-numbness of strip malls and chain restaurants and developments that all look the same.

And so I continue to search. Meanwhile, the newspaper's travel section goes untouched. I've spent nearly an entire life consumed by a desire to travel--and I did just that. But then, one day I found a place where my spirit felt at home. It was late winter when I found it. I drove a long ways, to the very end of the universe, and then tromped across a snow-crusted field until I stood looking out towards a valley of black spruce and bare-boned tamarack. The spine of the ridge beyond was punctuated by an unbroken cover of trees that, before long, I would end up falling in love with over and over again. I never imaged myself living in a field, but that particular expanse of space was as mighty as an ocean--full of fireflies and sunsets, wind and wolves and wildflowers. I have since left that place and, maybe it is because of this, it seems that roots have become more important to me than wings.

"Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are." ~by Belden Lane, excerpt from Landscapes of the Soul

*Find more "town and country" here.

14 comments:

Rethabile said...

"You see, I come from a place where the nights are so dark that the stars alone are thick enough to swallow you whole, a place where the Milky Way ropes itself through an impenetrable firmament, a place where the effects of a dancing aurora borealis is enough to steal your breath"

'Scuse me..., where is this place? I've been looking for it for quite a while.

Laura B. said...

I loved this entry, Jessie. --- Your writing continues to amaze :)

gautami tripathy said...

That sense of belonging has to come from within. No one else can make it for us.

Very reflective, thoughtful post.

Bohemian Mom said...

I can so relate. I have a "touchstone" fridge magnet that says "When you're at peace with yourself, any place is home."
I am a "renter" and have lived all over the place, having been born & raised in a small town of 18,000 people.
I long to own my own little piece of the planet that I can call home. I love the stimulation of bigger cities, but I thrive in wooded country areas.
Sometimes I think it'll take a lottery winning to truly have my ideal home.
Another beautifully written post Jessie.
xo

megg said...

Ooh, Jessie, can I come over for tea? Right now? I am longing to walk in the woods with you. I am in a place where my roots are pulling me in one direction and my wings are pulling me in another. It's a painful place to be in the middle of! I get this so intensely. My world - my real home - is in a place VERY similar to yours, and yet I find myself elsewhere - home and yet not home...

and the line: "it seems that roots have become more important to me than wings." has just pushed me out of my writers block!!!! THANK YOU - I can feel a chapter rushing in!

kj said...

You see, I come from a place where the nights are so dark that the stars alone are thick enough to swallow you whole, a place where the Milky Way ropes itself through an impenetrable firmament, a place where the effects of a dancing aurora borealis is enough to steal your breath away. I come from a place of pine and poplar, sugar maple and giant oaks. I come from a place of mist and marshes, dark soil and blue lakes, from a place of owls and moon dogs and glacial moraines and walleye and white-tailed deer. I come from a place with a short growing season, a place of extremes. And sometimes...sometimes I wonder why I ever left that place at all.

what an incredible piece of writing.

jessie, it's beginning. it's fermenting. it will happen. and you are right--the little space you and vinnie will call home will surround and ground you. patience, ok? instead, you can be excited that the pot has been stirred....

:)

Tammy said...

I loved these quotes and pray that you find your geographical place. Your writing is superb as always. XXOO

Spiky Zora Jones said...

Jessie, wonderfuly written. Your words clearly convey your mind and heart. You are a true artist. You painted wonderful thought...and what's wonderful for me is I can see them.
I am torn. My heart wishes to fly and feel the wind push against my back. I want to go back to the coast where I can see and smell the water.
I totally dig you babes...Ciao.

Anonymous said...

jessie, i want to echo others' sentiments of how beautifully this is written. you are making progress on your thesis...i can tell. even if the words aren't on paper yet. you are an amazing artist in every sense of the word and such an inspiration for a life well-lived.

~ruby

Loralee Choate said...

I know that you have white walls around you but your little cottage is totally MAGICAL. I heart it.

deirdre said...

You describe "home" so perfectly. I hunger for this place.

Molly said...

Lovely post!

Betty C. said...

I decided to visit the last post on the list for a change -- and I don't regret it. You took fairly simple ideas, things many people feel, and turned them into an excellent piece with vivid images.

Anonymous said...

The Quote "Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are.” is originally from Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gassett.