I sit flipping through the photo albums and the snapshots in my brain, thinking of this city, town, hamlet, blink-and-you-miss-it place that I’ve loved. There are so many places to love and that many more reasons to love them. The creamy sand dunes around Sidi Bouzid, the hunter green projected on Vancouver’s north shore, the periwinkles of the sea around Beaufort’s inner coastal waterway, the rainbow of terra cottas in Rajasthan. The golden bell within Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves.
How only so many generations ago, dreaming of those places, seeing pictures of those places, traveling to those places, visiting and then falling in love with and then living in those places was not a thing. In any one lifetime.
And yet, how nomadic has become a trend, an escape, an option, when it was once the norm.
How we have come full circle.
The explorers turned conquistadors and colonizers bent this trajectory, while burning down their own homes in the wake. Smoldering piles at their backs.
Thomas King says of settlers like me, essentially, “Watch out. It’s as though they always have one foot on land and one on the boat.”
I feel that in my bones.
My DNA a curated scattershot from across Europe. Is that my homeland?
I think of the tall grass-green corn stalks and their thin golden tassels of mid-July surrounding my birthplace in southern Illinois. The Myaamia, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, the Kaskaskia, the Kickapoo, the O-ga-xpa Ma-zhoⁿ, the Osage and before them, the pre-Colombian Cahokia building the largest city and burial grounds North of Mexico.
Is that my homeland too?
If it is – and it is – why was I so urgently seeking to leave it, even if I love it? To bolt, my shoelaces tied, body posed at the starting blocks, muscles twitching.
What would it be like to know a place, to stay rooted in it forever and ever. Knowing it so intimately – where this spring leads to and what’s beyond that dead end. The dew point at which that the grasshoppers quiet their voices. The time when the deer shed antlers to reveal their soft, downy velvet underneath. The right moment to plant a tomato from seed. When the north winds blow, from all the way from the Arctic ocean’s shores, where they pass over so many heads before they pass over mine, what it means I need to do to keep the fire from working its way out too quickly. The temperature and cloud cover that are just right for the chlorophyll to break down, for the leaves to die, the green pigment to disappear, and the yellow, orange and red carotenes to become vibrantly visible to me. And why the jonquils decide to come when they do as the day gains light at its own pace.
One place. Generation after generation. What would I give up to know these things, to breath them in, to shift my compass to a new north star. Or rather, is the question, what would I gain?