Goodbye, Native Land

Front yard

Goodbye, tree

I’ve been reading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot:

A human life, I think, should be well-rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sure habit of the blood.

This book was published in 1876, a full century before my parents got married and moved into the house that my dad had spent a few years building from the ground up. Yet I have never found anything that so well expresses my gratitude for my well-rooted beginnings.

In the previous post, I wrote about how the only real life-changer I’ve experienced was moving out of my parents’ house when I was 18. What I didn’t say was how lucky I was to have lived there until then.

That house, that neighborhood gave me a sense of belonging that was so profound that I didn’t know it existed until I left. There were no donkeys, but there were a substantial number of dogs and horses whose names I knew.

In high school, I would go for early-morning runs in complete darkness. I didn’t take a flashlight, because I didn’t need one. I will never know another place better.

I think that’s because the understanding came about authentically rather than intentionally. I think that’s what Eliot was driving at.

The neighborhood where I grew up backs up onto federal land, part of a forest that stretches over a thousand miles, from British Columbia to Bakersfield, California. My friends and I would go exploring there sometimes. We had no conception of the vastness — that if we started walking, we could lose ourselves forever — but I think it was ingrained into us in a way that it wasn’t in kids who lived just a few miles up the road. At the age of 8, knowing that you can be in the wilderness within ten minutes, without your parents knowing about it…well, no wonder Brooklyn always seemed so crowded.

This intense connection to a home place has made me aware that other places are not my home, to varying degrees. I have seen that, for other people, other neighborhoods and towns and even public transit systems are native territories, which have shaped them just as much. Having a true home can be alienating in some ways, but it’s also illuminating: What about this other place is ingrained into its natives, the way the vastness and the juniper is in me? What is the affect of this place on the people who live here? Would they be able to adjust to the pervasive quiet of where I come from?

This has helped me to see the best of places. It has helped me to be open.

One of the very best things about where I grew up was being able to see the Milky Way on a dark night.

Here’s a surprising thing: I may never go to that house again. I might never even be in the neighborhood again.

It wasn’t what I expected when I moved out West, but that’s the way of things.

This month, I’m blogging with some friends. You can do it, too! Jenny has a really good explanation, with many of our prompts; if you are interested, leave a comment and I will share the ever-evolving Google doc with you (email addresses will not be published).



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