Thursday, March 26, 2015

Places that feel like Home

We are reading Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" for my book club (meeting in April). I've only just begun it, but the opening lines struck me and made me think. They go like this:

"This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. ...--there's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment."

Dad on the steppe
This made me ponder the places that have been home for me. There is no singular place, but rather a progression of homes that I've loved over the years. 

In my childhood and youth it was the north woods--Michigan--both our home on the Pigeon River Country (northern lower peninsula) and our cabin in the Upper Peninsula. The soft cushion of rotting leaves beneath my feet, the sound of merry chickadees, and being wrapped tightly within thickets of trees. I was never afraid of being in the woods in Michigan (contrary to my experience hiking the trails in Colorado where a mountain lion could be lying in wait!). Yes, being barefoot beneath the mixed hardwoods of Michigan was the first home I knew.

Then we moved to Pennsylvania. The woods there were similar, but I never knew them as intimately as I knew Michigan. Besides, I was a teenager and more interested in friends and doing social things. It was a different kind of a home. A school where I could excel at things and discover whom I wanted to be and become. My final three years in high school were fantastic. More than PA being a home, I had my first experience of, "You can never go home again." I moved west to Idaho in 1995 and when I came back to celebrate Christmas in 1996 it occurred to me that PA, though my mother and siblings yet lived there, it was no longer home. I began to recognize that home was something I carried inside myself. 

And yet, I have experienced the power of place. A feeling of enchantment, or mysticism, that connects something in my core with the earth, the surroundings, of particular places. Three places come to mind.

First, walking amongst the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park. Dad and I took a three week trip through NM, AZ, and Utah. We visited a number of parks--the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges to name the highlights. They were all stunning in their own ways and I was surprised by the diversity within the state of Utah (if you haven't traveled there, I highly recommend you do!). But Bryce pulled on my soul. Dad and I took the longest hike we could find that took us down amongst the hoodoos, the Fairyland Loop. It was one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I'd ever been and we encountered very few others on the trail. I was enchanted there. 

In the summer of 2013 I had the opportunity to attend a writing workshop at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM. I had dreamed of visiting this place for a number of years, ever since visiting Santa Fe and learning that it was a place that had so inspired Georgia O'Keeffe (I always preferred her landscapes and cityscapes...not the flowers). I was fortunate enough to have her same birthday and have felt an affinity for her character, her choices in life, her zest for life. So to spend a week on this land was a gift, for sure. 

I parked on a Monday afternoon and didn't again get in my car until I HAD to leave come Sunday morning. Many people take day trips to Santa Fe or Chama. I did not want to leave! It was, at the time, the most beautiful place I'd ever visited. I felt the most at peace that I'd ever felt in my life in this space. Serenity, gratitude, centered. Those are the feelings it evoked. The views were beyond stunning and it was easy to understand why Georgia was enthralled by it. I was too. I always thought I'd make it back there.......but then there was Mongolia

As I may have said before, Mongolia began to call to me in 2010. I can't explain why or how.....I'm sure three or five years prior I was completely unaware of it. But there was something in Dad's pictures from his 2009 trip that spoke to me. Pulled on me. Dad and I wanted to make another great trip together (previous ones being Alaska and the Southwest). He left it to me to choose. In my mind, there was no place on earth more exotic than Mongolia. I needed to put my feet on the steppe. I had never been attracted to Asia before this time.....but it was a strong and magnetic-like pull. Yes, I wanted to be on that landscape. My soul knew it, desired it. 

And Mongolia did not disappoint. From the Gobi desert to the steppe in Hustai National Park and to the Onon river valley we fished. It was all beautiful and enchanting. 

The expansiveness was what I loved the most. No matter the landscape, one could see to the horizon, miles and miles away. And not a fence in sight. Nothing to make you feel caged or constrained by boundaries. I felt so free in Mongolia. It was everything I imagined it to be, and so much more. 

My new home. Apartment on 4th floor. Light is on.
While I only explored a small fraction of what IS Mongolia, I'm looking forward to Zorig sharing more and more of his country with me as I make it my new homeland. But to get started, I will move into the apartment in this picture. We will live on the fourth floor where you can see the light is on. This street in front is for pedestrians only, a type of park. I've always wanted to live in a big city and have the urban lifestyle. must be balanced with time on the land, "in the countryside," as they say in Mongolia. I have no doubt my desires for both will be met. 

So I want to leave you with the question: Where have you felt most at home? Is there just one place, or many? Is it the people, or the land, or the memories that make it so? 

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