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What Ties You to Where You Live

photo-30
Coast above Santa Cruz at Año Nuevo

It’s a beautiful day here in Santa Cruz, California. The sun shines off the oak trees as I sit in front of the post office, observing the wonderful kinetic sculpture at the front of the mall, Santa Cruz’s main downtown street, with its silvery wheels inside of wheels spinning, turning, and reflecting the morning sun coming down. If you stand at the ocean’s edge on West Cliff Drive, you can see 50 miles across the bay to Monterrey. Further up the coast you can walk along the cliffs near Wilder Ranch and stare out past the waves into the plain of stretching water and the fabulous sense of freedom it evokes.

photo-31I’m sure that people love the towns and counties they live in for a variety of reasons. Santa Cruz is a wonderful place to live and to spend time. Something I especially love about the area is the wide variety of people here. The town has a strong sense community, and you can also enjoy diverse outdoor activities in the area: hiking, kayaking, surfing, biking. I love books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz in downtown Santa Cruz, with its wide variety of reading choices, is a fantastic place to while away several hours. Also, the presence of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College offer additional character and interest to the town. Shakespeare Santa Cuz is held every year at UCSC, and Cabrillo College has its music festival. Additionally, there are many choices of restaurants to try and several farmers markets to buy locally grown food.

Temperatures in the area tend to be mild–not too hot, and not too cold. The mountains with redwoods are only minutes from the beach, allowing for micro climates and micro plant communities as well. As you can see, there are many things to like about this town, but there are things to like about many places. Delhi has it’s historical monuments and ancient history. Japan, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Zimbabwe–the list could go on and on, all have amazing monuments and each their unique beauty, so, what is it that bonds me in particular to this location? I think it is my connection to and interaction with the natural world here. Wild sweet peas and California poppies shine their sunny faces along the roadsides, oaks dot the hillsides and grassy meadows, redwoods grow in the hills 15 minutes inland from the beach. Their presence is something that has grown in importance to me over the years The trees on my land seem almost like part of my family. I love to stand in the yard and suddenly smell their enigmatic perfume drifting by. When you visit a place, it may be beautiful, but you’re just passing through. When you repeatedly come back to a place or live in an area, you see it in all it’s moods. It grows inside of you and becomes part of the geography of your soul.

photo-28More than this, I am working on the land here, getting my hands in the soil, digging, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting fruit, herbs, and vegetables from the garden. Bit by bit the garden grows, and I am watching as plants surprise me, like the red flame grape that is taking over the arbor and currently has a hundred clusters of grapes on it, and the blue berries that have given us several bowls full of fruit since arriving home. They are beautiful to see in the morning with the dew gathering on their dusty blue fruit. The sun shines through the grape leaves, and they glow like stained glass. Each plant has its own character and habit, and as I work with them and care for them, I learn from them. I previously felt bad about cutting back the lavender, for example, but now that I have, it is growing more profusely and seems much happier, making me think that a limitless pruning might  be good for all of us at certain times, whether that means minimizing our possessions according to what no longer helps us become our best selves, or learning self-control, not giving in to all of our desires, again, so that we can be more of the person we most want to be in the long run–the bigger picture of our lives.

At night here in the Soquel hills just south of Santa Cruz, a myriad of stars illuminate the sky. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be so enveloped in nature as I am when I am here, to constantly be aware of the earth’s gifts, to be able to walk out on to the earth instead of a sidewalk, to be able to smell the air’s sweetness–air without smoke or chemicals. It seems a miracle here every day in my home county. I suppose if you lived here every day you might start to think that this is the way the earth is. In reality, I think places like this, communities that still have open space and nature around them are becoming more rare. Living in a place that allows me too connect with nature on a daily basis feeds my spirit, brings me a sense of peace and renewal, and is deeply satisfying. Maybe this is because I grew up in a rural area and it is part of the geography of my soul, something I long for after living in so many large cities in my adult life. Is it the same for others? What connects you to the place you live?

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Coming Home

Gerald Stern’s, “Let Me Please Look Into My Window” is such a beautiful and powerful poem in the understated grief he describes in leaving home, “Let me walk up Broadway past Zak’s, past the Melody Fruit Store,” he says, listing the small details of his home and street, “past Stein’s Eyes, past the New Moon Inn, past the Olympia.” As you read on, you recognize Stern is describing more than leaving home, but leaving life itself–

Let me leave quietly by Gate 29

and fall asleep as we pull away from the ramp
into the tunnel.

Let me wake up happy, let me know where I am, let me lie still,
as we turn left, as we cross the water, as we leave the light.

For many of us who have lived away from their home countries for decades, there comes a time, though you didn’t necessarily think it would, when it’s hard to leave, hard to head back across the water again. You just want to stay home and rediscover all the small details of the world there that you didn’t know when you lived there–to walk up your own home town’s Broadway or Melody’s Fruit store in all its wonderful commonplace richness. But you have to leave–you have commitments to meet. Quietly, you walk past your own gate 29, leaving the light behind to sleep in the airplane’s cocoon, and wake up on the other side of the world.

In the other world you live in, you try out new things, learning new skills, go new places. Explore. It is a good world, too, but something hidden in you longs, after a while, to come home to yourself. To be whole. Perhaps it is the longing that enables us to recognize home, and what it is we need in order to be whole.

I’m wondering, what does it mean for you to come home to yourself? What do you need to feel whole?

Read Stern’s full poem here, on the Writer’s Almanac.

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Coming Home to Ourselves

Today Michael and I spent time putting our house in order after moving to a different apartment here in Delhi. Getting things on the wall before we start work helps me to feel settled in. After we got all the various items up on the wall and were taking a rest, I began to wonder about what these objects, what they really are in my life. They all represent something of Michael and I and our journey, but they are also not us, not the journey, not even metaphors for what that journey meant. We are really none of the things on the wall. All of the things on the walls of our house and the objects on our shelves we have we obtained on our journeys since living overseas, and some of them were given to us. A number of the things I would not now select to take home with me, none the less we have them and they help make our apartment look lived in. Having things put up or away makes me feel more at rest and at home.

But what is it that makes a place home, that makes us feel at home underneath a place’s surface features of familiar objects? When I am on our land in California, I feel totally at home, at rest, complete, whole and fully alive, like I did when I was a child climbing the hills in back of our house off of Oak Creek Dr. in Lakeside. There I would roam the hilltops and hillsides through the dry yellow grass overlooking the valleys, and lie on the granite boulders, heat seeping into my skin, sinking into my bones, where I would stare up into the endless blue sky and the eucalyptus trees’ dry branches, watching hawks circle through. No thought of time or its shortness. I am lounging in the arms of the eternal now, just being. Now, when I am on my land in Soquel, again I feel this connection, though I do not really understand why. It has something to do with the land, that particular land with its unique geography. I feel aware of the earth under my feet, and I want to take care of it, to nurture it. The geography of a place affects our spirits, teaches us something of who we are. The Psalmist said, “The Heavens declare the Glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” If nature reflects God, it helps us see who we are in relationship to the vastness of creation, as well as to its minuteness and particular qualities–it is a kind of microscope, mirror, or telescope, a powerful source of metaphor, and a source that helps us know and define ourselves in relationship to the world.

When I first knew Michael, I remember riding in the bed of someone’s truck when our own truck broke down somewhere around Auburn, CA. The sky had the back-lit blue light that it gets when the sun has just gone down. I looked over at him sitting there, his hair rustled with wind, and thought about how peaceful I felt in his presence, how it was like coming home to myself, and I knew he was my home, my spirit was at home with him. Home, then, is more than a place, more than the land we stand on or the house we live in. Home is about relationship, and has to do with the quality of being.

This morning while Michael was giving me a haircut, I was listening to a short YouTube where Parker Palmer  speaking with an interviewer from the Fetzer Institute talked about how many of us allow institutions to define ourselves rather than seeing that our identity comes not from what we do, but from within, from our own sense of being. We often go through the world thinking, Parker says, that “I am what I do …. my worth comes from my functioning. If there is to be any love for us, we must succeed at something.”  We are living with a kind of unspoken fear about whether we will measure up. Parker explains that seeing our selves not as a being, but someone in a particular role, someone who has become that role–who is identified with what we do, is why many people feel lost when they no longer have their job, or the role they have played for so long changes. Or when their body starts to fall apart, as well, I want to add. We are more than the role we play, or the job we hold, more than any one thing we do or what it is that happens to our bodies. We are deeper, more mysterious than this. We are alive. We participate in a mystery.

How do we learn more how to be when the culture we are from and the world we are in tells us what counts is what we do? I think it takes courage to look beyond the definition of life that is satisfied to stop with a definition of self or selves that can be quantified and labeled. We must find places to look to that repeatedly, daily even, bring us back to that place where we are aware of the mystery of life and of being–where we can wander through the yellow hills and know our essence is connected to the earth and to each other, not to a clock. I want to grow deeper into that place of being, acquaint myself further with who that person is. It will teach me more how to live, how to be alive.

Michael memorized this poem from Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology and recited it to me when I first knew him. It captures the relationship to life and to the world that I want to walk in, the way it is when you come home to yourself.

Faith Methany

AT first you will know not what they mean,
And you may never know,
And we may never tell you:–
These sudden flashes in your soul,
Like lambent lightning on snowy clouds
At midnight when the moon is full.
They come in solitude, or perhaps
You sit with your friend, and all at once
A silence falls on speech, and his eyes
Without a flicker glow at you:–
You two have seen the secret together,
He sees it in you, and you in him.
And there you sit thrilling lest the
Mystery stand before you and strike you dead
With a splendor like the sun’s.
Be brave, all souls who have such visions
As your body’s alive as mine is dead,
You’re catching a little whiff of the ether
Reserved for God Himself.

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Beginnings and Endings

Beginnings are connected to endings, and endings to beginnings. Every time something is born, something else passes away. This past weekend, my husband Michael, and I spent our time moving to a new apartment. Our move was only one floor above, not a very big move, still it seems new and different. Since the move was so close-by, I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought about the move being much of a change other than wondering how we were going to manage to find the time to pack and then unpack with so little time left in India before we would be leaving for the summer. Nevertheless, as the opportunity to move opened and I carried box after box up the stairs, I found myself repeatedly thinking about how this phase of my life was ending–my time in the apartment with its idiosyncrasies of the toilet pipes that run and then stop running on their own, the particular scent of the rooms, the tree leaves grown thick over the window–all that was over!

One phase of my life was complete but another had begun. Sunday night we went to dinner with our friend Kamal, and her family, in celebration of her acceptance into the teaching program at a university in Calgary. To become a teacher is Kamal’s dream, and she is entering a new phase of her life as she sets off for college in a city and country unfamiliar to her now. It’s all so very exciting, but at the same time, a bit scary because of its unfamiliarity.

Since I’ve moved many times in my life, I’ve often wondered what it is like for people who stay in one location their whole lives, or for those who have rarely moved. What is it like to grow deep roots in one place? How might it change the way you see the world? Imagine having friends who have known you your whole life, who have seen you grow and change, who have watched as you developed new skills, and who were there to encourage you along the way! You would have friends you share a long history with, who know you well enough that you could sit with them in silent communion. That would be a rare gift. You would also know a landscape intimately–its myriad shades of sunlight and shadow. A good steward of the land, you would have taken care of it through all forms of weather and seasons. The land itself would your trusted friend.

That is one version of what it could be like to stay in one place your whole life. My life has not followed this path, though. Instead, I have repeatedly stepped into the unknown or semi-known. Doing this gets more challenging as you grow older and feel greater pressure to save up financial resources for the years when you will not work and yet need to go on paying for your living expenses. Adventures involve the unpredictable and the unexpected, and moving into unknown territory often is not easy, as you never feel fully settled in any one place. On the other hand, the advantage of moving frequently is that it has served as a bell that reminds me to repeatedly come back to the idea of how precious the time is in each place I live in or travel to. Often, I only have a brief time to be with old friends from my hometown each summer, or just a hand full of days with family members every few years, so those days and whatever they contain are dear.

Quite a number of years ago now I read Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, a book that helped me see the value of life of a migratory life in a new way. Chatwin explains, “As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less ‘aggressive’ than sedentary ones.

There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a ‘leveller’ on which the ‘fit’ survive and stragglers fall by the wayside.”

Chatwin says our “real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.” This is a terrific promotion of the value of walking, and the view of life one gains through the pace a journey takes when on foot. I’m intrigued, though, by the notion of life itself being a pilgrimage, a hard journey.  If we can recognize that those walking beside us as fellow travelers, young, old, rich, poor, of different religions and different cultures, we can learn from each other and can better understand how to find our way.

Our “way” has something to do with understanding how these mundane things of our lives, like packing up our house and moving, or walking to work or standing in line at the cafeteria, are what life is. The every day events and conversations and how we carry them out, are what make the fabric of our lives. In the commonplace of our lives lies the journey itself. It is a pilgrimage where the inner journey meets the outer that occurs whether we leave home or stay in the same place our entire lives. One reason I continue to pick the transitory life is that it forces me to continue to think about the place where the inner and outer journeys meet and to make myself take note of how I am walking.

This time of year in the world of international schools, the environment I live and work in, many people are moving away, both students and teachers. Thirteen years spent in one place, perhaps, and then that someone is gone. Last weekend, as I sat in the room with a group of friends singing, I was looking at the faces of three people I will not see again here next year, Vicky and Ron and Deanna. They are such a natural part of my world here that it is very difficult to imagine them gone. Even though we speak of it, though we have going away parties, though we talk about their plans, and look forward to them enjoying their new experiments in living, my mind goes on affirming their presence. I suppose that is because they aren’t quite gone yet, and because I know we will still be in communication after they are gone. But as Vicky says, they are “history.” Their influence on my life will no longer be the way it was. Still, the influence of their presence on my life continues. I know I have quoted Buechner several times already on these postings, but Buechner says it well, “When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. I means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.”

Good-byes are a kind of death, it is true. There are always too many things going on when they occur, and we are never quite ready for them. But they are also a beginning. The Hindus demonstrate this understanding of the cycle of life and death in their god, Shiva, who is both the creator-destroyer. The Jewish scriptures of Ecclesiastes say, “There is a time and a place for everything under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die.” The Celts in ancient Ireland began their new year in winter. For Christians, Jesus’ death brings life. In the midst of death, life is being born. When you are carrying the weight of boxes up stairs for hours on end, it’s just plain hard. Your feet get tired and your back as well. But that’s the way new things get born– step by step you carry your load to the new location and set it down. Of course, it’s always very nice when someone can help you carry the weight. We are on this road together, we can do that no matter where we are. As fellow pilgrims say on the road to Santiago de Compostela, “Buen camino,” happy travels.