“Only from such a place of loss and longing can we begin remembering ourselves home.” ~Toko-pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Back Home, p. 18
After two weeks of Arizona sunshine, loving friends, gourmet meals, and brilliant stars, I looked forward to the Finger Lakes spring. I wanted to hear peeper frogs and honking geese. I wanted to watch bluebirds in their nesting box and finches at the feeder. I longed for wet earth and greening trails.
My son Anthony lives three miles away when he’s not traveling. A few days after my return, he came by to borrow a chain saw to trim trees broken by winter’s heavy snow. I prepared a simple lunch. He suggested a walk.
I hadn’t spent much time in the deep woods after March snows. Instead, I’d headed for the AZ desert.
While I was gone, the snow melted, mosses greened, and buds swelled. As we walked the forest trails, we cleared broken limbs from the path. We visited a place where Anthony and his friends created a small pyramid near stone walls. We explored the dam Anthony made in the stream before crossing another swollen stream and climbing to the back corner of the property.
“I don’t use that trail anymore,” I said. “After the neighbor logged the big oaks and maples, it was too sad. They also demolished trails with brush, so I got lost a few times.”
I don’t like being lost.
“I’ll find the way,” Anthony said. He explored every corner of this forest as a kid, so I trusted he would.
I climbed through a brushy barrier and followed Anthony and Willow up hill. The trail had been re-opened by a man who bought the woods after the big trees were cut. Seedlings were becoming trees in this familiar, yet all new landscape. A wide well-tended trail opened before us and encouraged me on.
We found a posted sign marking the corner between my neighbor’s property and National Forest. Anthony pointed out a row of ancient oak trees growing in clusters. “This oak hedgerow ends on our land near the swamp,” Anthony said. “Dad built a tree house in one of them for David and me.”
We found a lean-to with remnants of a bark roof not far from a familiar bridge. Deep shade from the hemlocks preserved patches of snow. Even with my poor hearing, I heard the rushing gorge stream before seeing it.
“I belong here,” I said to Anthony. “I loved Arizona’s blue skies and exotic desert plants and birds, but this is home.”
Anthony nodded. He’s attached to this land, too. He spotted a soaring hawk. I saw the flash of a white-tailed deer. Yes, it’s cloudy here and sometimes wet and cold, but it’s green, gentle, and full of wild fertile life.
While traveling, I read Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home by Toko-pa Turner. The book awakened an on-going question: Where do I belong? Where do I feel at home?
My husband Vic died ten years ago this June. In his last months, I said to him, “I don’t think I can manage the house and land by myself. I’ll need to move.”
“I know you’ll figure it out,” he said. I half-wanted him to tell me what to do after his death, but it was my job to find a sense of home in a world without his physical presence.
I’m still here on the land where we cleaned old dumps and my sons and I built a cairn for Vic. I’m still here living in an old farm house we saved from collapse. I’m here because of a network of helpers, an enduring community, and my love of this land. This is my sacred earth, the place where I belong.
Where do you belong? Do you long for home when you’re away? I recommend an article called “Wisdom of Trees” by Sara Burrows because it helps me understand the mysterious network of connection that holds me to the forest. You might also enjoy Give Thanks for the Teaching of Trees which includes three favorite poems about forest wisdom. I expect I’ll write about desert experiences sometime soon, but this week, I had to write about belonging. I leave you with a taste of Arizona desert sky.