It is by knowing where you stand that you grow able to judge where you are. – Eudora Welty
In graduate school, I took a class on Ecocriticism. I took this class partially because the title fascinated me, but also because I was feeling a connection to land - to place, and I wanted a chance to indulge myself and examine what I was feeling and why. Ecocriticism is, essentially, the study of Place in literature. It is not the landscape or the setting, but Place almost as if it were a character within the text. It was a fascinating class.
In the process of writing my final paper for this class, I read a book called From Where We Stand- Recovering a Sense of Place by Deborah Tall. The book offered a look at Place as it impacts us. According to some theories, wherever we live at the age of 10 is where we feel a deep connection. I refuse to speak for others, but where I was at the age of 10 was in Wisconsin - on the prairies - with the breeze rippling across the prairie grasses and undulating over the hills. With puffy cumulus clouds that seemed close enough to touch as you laid on your back, warming up from the cool swimming pool waters and with the sky matching the blue of the water at your side. With storms that you could smell miles away and funnel-clouds that arose in purple clouds - and sirens that sounded directing you to your basement's alleged safest corner - the southwest corner. With lake-effect snow that, at 5 inches, was a tease as you walked the mile to school and you only jumped for joy when a solid foot fell overnight. With the joke that Wisconsin has only two seasons: shovel and swat. And with snow that stuck around for more than a day.
Flash forward many years. I have fallen in love with the mountains of Virginia. Autumn is my favorite - the motley of colors splashed against the rising, rolling peaks dotted with shadows from clouds enthrall me. I find a lot of beauty in all I see and in every season. Virginia has all 4 seasons - most of the time. But the winter here is dull. I cherish the days we get snow, even if the curving, hilly roads are too dangerous to attempt. Most of the time, though, when we do get snow, it is usually coated with ice or it melts within a day. It is not much fun for playing in and cabin fever can be even more realistic than it was in the frigid Wisconsin temperatures.
On a few occasions, we will get a storm so powerful, or the temperatures will remain low long enough, that the snow will last more than a day. And on those occasions, I feel a tremendous homesickness. I've been in Virginia for 26 years, now, and I still yearn for the nights when the clouds insulated the air and I and my brother went out to shovel our driveway at 10 at night in hopes that our Mom would have an easier time the next morning. I miss the blue hue that night takes on when any and all light is reflected in the crystalline ground. I gaze, longingly, at the rolling hills here, serpentine tracks from sledders (sleds - not sleighs. The two are not interchangeable.) curving down until the bottom is reached and a host of foot tracks climb to the top. And I miss the warmth that can accompany the cold when you work up a sweat shoveling, or rolling a huge base to a snowman, or engaging in a snowball fight.
I am homesick at the moment. I am so happy that the storm that hit us last Thursday has lasted this long. I love the fact that I got 3 days of shoveling in - at least an hour each day - providing me with a workout, fresh air, sense of accomplishment, and a reason for a back massage all in one. And I am so thankful that my son got to go outside every day this week to play without worry about wind or mud or ridiculously frigid temperatures and was worn out every evening, dropping easily off into slumber. Steve laughed at the frustration he's felt, having to trek into work -- he shook his head in exasperation and said he has absolutely no inclination to move further north.
These mountains are where he was when he was 10. And he loves these hills. When we take a trip to the beach, as much fun as we have, he sighs in happiness and relief when we finally get back to "his mountains." I know I will never be able to instill in him the same love I have for my prairies. And I know, too, that I am easily looking past the downfalls to my prairies. But I am relieved to know that, regardless of Place and Home, as much as I love my prairies, my time here has demonstrated that every place you try on can be a fit, if you give it a chance.
Steve and Sydney are my true home. I miss my prairies, and I enjoy knowing I'll, one day, be able to show Sydney the joys I experienced as a child growing up on the lolling hills. But as long as I have my two boys, I'll be home, regardless of prairie or ancient hills.
Where were you at age 10? Does it have a wonderful hold upon you? Are you still there and is that landscape a part of who you are?
Image of Appalachian Mountains courtesy of http://nowitz.photoshelter.com/image/I0000F2yTIV2TnHk