Until I found that place, everywhere I lived was a waystation: large cities, small cities, rural enclaves, suburban bedroom communities. None of them was my ideal place. When there were things to like, I enjoyed them, but not too much, because I knew I would be leaving. When there were things I didn’t like, I ignored them, because there was little point in working for change in a place I didn’t intend to stay, a place that just didn’t feel right.
Do you see the problem? After many years and many moves, I saw it, too. I was a lazy seeker. I didn’t want to do the work of developing a relationship to a place, learning its nature and giving myself to it with real affection. I valued reciprocity – or thought I did -- but I wanted the place to give to me first. I wanted an off-the-rack experience of home, but love – true affection – doesn't come ready-made. It's a tailored response. It's always specific. It comes with a definitive article: not a home, but this home, beside this road, along this river, on this patch of Earth. I’ve come to understand – belatedly, but finally -- that loving where you are has less to do with finding a place than with staying put long enough to allow a place to know you’re there, to let it grow comfortable with your presence and begin – slowly, and with great patience -- to love you back.
I think it was the character of Phineas, in John Knowles' novel A Separate Peace, who said, “When you love something, it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love.” You care for it, and it cares for you, usually in ways you never anticipated.
That’s true reciprocity.
Loving where you are means relinquishing all those comforting contingency plans that spare you the work of local affection – those plans that allow you to leave half your life packed in boxes in the garage or the attic, half your heart tucked away, and half your imagination wandering the map in search of a better place. Loving where you are means calling your imagination home and putting it to work right where you are: learning the names of the people and trees and plants and birds and creeks and flowers, and letting them speak to your heart – your whole heart -- and show you what needs to be done, right here, right now.
photo: backyard berries, ripening daily by the handful.