lost HOME found

I was supposed to go to my 30 year high school reunion this summer. For a variety of reasons I chose instead to wait until November to quietly visit my high school best friend who still lives in town. I hadn’t been back in 10 years. My family moved around a lot (they even moved to Africa after I graduated), so I have to make an effort to visit Missouri…and most of the time I don’t really feel the need. But after an intense week of touring New England with my Water Ways co-author in October, I was glad for a chance to sneak away.

I knew from Facebook that my old high school had just been demolished. I also knew from my last visit that my old house had burned down. What I didn’t know was that my church had been torn down and a used car lot built on the site. Having connected so readily to my new landscape in New Hampshire yet never connecting to my 16-year landscape in California, I often think about the concept of home — how there are places we feel it and places we don’t and how it doesn’t seem to depend on time lived in a place. Missouri is one of those places where I failed to connect. Where I lived and was known, but never fit.

Where my school used to be

Looking back 30 years later, a lot of the failure to connect was on me. The transition from northern Illinois to southern Missouri was tricky. There were different accents to contend with and a living situation that was more institutional than domestic. But after this last trip I think I’ve discovered the core issue: alienation from landscape.

My family was never the outdoorsy type, but when we lived in rural Illinois I was allowed to roam free. I had a secret hiding place in the drainage ditch beneath a mulberry tree. I could ride my bike down gravel roads lined with soybean and corn fields, and even cross the tracks to my friend’s sheep farm. I climbed well-placed limbs on mature lawn trees and did cartwheels in the grass. My family may not have gone outside, but I did. Because I could.

But in Missouri the landscape was different. Hostile. There were chiggers and ticks. There were no lawn trees to climb, just acres of scrubby woods so thick I couldn’t make a path. What little lawn existed was too hilly for cartwheels, and the drainage ditches were too steep and muddy to get up and down. When my family finally moved into town, I could at least escape to the park if the Hubble Creek ford wasn’t flooded. But I’d spent four prior years trapped, and they’d left their mark.

Which is too bad, really. We only lived a few miles from the Mississippi River and Trail of Tears State Park. On this trip, my friend took me to the river walk in front of the flood wall in Cape Girardeau so I could photograph the power of the Mississippi’s flow.

Cape Girardeau flood wall

She also took me to a wilder section of Hubble Creek in Jackson, the same creek that ran behind the tennis courts where I spent countless hours hitting against the backboard. Surprisingly, the bed of Hubble Creek reminded me of the limestone pavements my husband and I recently walked in the Yorkshire Dales. The water was running, but calm enough to climb down the bank and photograph the texture of the water. I stepped across flat-topped rocks to reach the middle without getting wet. I noticed flow patterns and reflections and vegetation zones and flood markings.

I connected. Finally. And now I’m driven to return. Not just to continue investing in lifelong friendships, but to get reacquainted with the moods of Hubble Creek. To explore its swallowing of Goose Creek, Foster Creek, and Williams Creek. To watch it join the Castor River Diversion Channel. To then see those merged waters slide into the Mississippi River as it makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

It had been there the whole time: Hubble Creek, my more-than-human connection point to a place I should have called home. It’s still there even though my house, my church, and my school are all gone. It will always be there, even if its course shifts or its inhabitants change. Because water always wins. Its power can be tempered or directed, but never tamed. And while I’m sad that it’s taken me this long to recognize the virtues of this humble creek running through a modest town, I’m relieved to have thought — for a moment — that it’s running through my town. My hometown.

My old band

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CLOUD [SKÝ]

I left home on a journey today: a road trip to visit family in Michigan. I expected my usual travel-adrenaline, the thrill of away. Instead I found dread at crossing the bridge that spans the Connecticut River and signifies the end of New Hampshire. To distract myself, I listened to the journey of Simon Armitage on the car stereo, the narrator’s voice like thunder through the mist on the Pennine Way. Similarly in Vermont, I wound along hairpin curves in cloud so thick I could barely see the hood of my car. Armitage dodged bulls in the fields he crossed; I dodged a family of Canada Geese [a mated pair plus five yellow-green goslings] as they attempted to cross I-90. And like Armitage, I lost my way. But only once. And only because I trusted (rather than overruled) technology. I’m halfway there; tomorrow the reunion begins, and hopefully with it joy. But for now, for tonight, I’ll sleep covered by the same bank of grey that reaches across New York, across Vermont, and blankets my Meredith meadow.

subaru crawls through cloud,
lines and signs all but invisible—
scenic overlook

©2014 JS Graustein
Rochester, New York USA

leaving home under a cloud
leaving home under a cloud

From Homebound to Home Bound

There is a reason I haven’t posted more details about my health-induced home search: I couldn’t get enough oxygen to type or think straight. But as I pack up for the final stage of a move to HOME, I find myself thinking of the runner-up and how shocked I (and my family) were that it didn’t work out.

January in New Hampshire went really well. I could breathe. I could walk. I could play in the snow. And work. I even felt like playing with my camera.

February back in Rocklin didn’t go well. I tried to keep up. But between poor air quality and neighbors creating smoke in various activities, I didn’t stand a chance. By mid-month my brain was jumbling words again and I could no longer take walks.

The big hope was March in Monterey. I’d been there for an extended stay before, in November, and found it therapeutic. But spring pollen and molds got the better of me. In a mere five days, my year-long photo project was cancelled. I was on my way to a lung infection and simple things — like getting dressed or making breakfast — would leave me breathless. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t read. And I was crushed. I had to return to Rocklin and my husband used the rest of my vacation rental for a working holiday.

Enter an unplanned April back in New Hampshire. With maple pollen spewing and black flies emerging, I explored the Lakes Region looking for trouble. I didn’t find any. By the end of the month, I was walking and thinking and reading and photographing. I even took the train to NYC and navigated the subway between Brooklyn and CUNY’s chapbook festival. No problem.

So in May we found a house. In June we closed the deal. In July we moved in stuff. And in August — in just a few hours — my son and I will begin the first phase of settling in: driving our car cross country in time to register him at his new school. At long last, September looks full of promise.

wish vs. reality wish vs. reality

NYE NewHampshire-Style

THIS is what I love about life in the woods:

  1. You’re playing bingo with your family.
  2. The phone rings. It’s your neighbor saying, “Come on out if you wanna join us for fireworks.”
  3. You throw on your coat, hat, and boots. Maybe your gloves.
  4. You walk down a snowy lane and stand in the road.
  5. Fireworks ensue, painting the snow.
  6. You walk back in the house—no traffic, no sweat—and resume bingo.

In the relocation tally, New Hampshire just scored five points in the bonus column.

Subconscious Drive

As I wrapped up the final book project for Folded Word’s 2012 list, I realized that my subconscious might be driving our paperback acquisitions. The last word of Guy Cranswick’s Nine Avenues (to be released by New Year’s Eve) is home. As is the last word of Mel Bosworth’s Freight (2011). Add to that the prevalence of homesickness and the redefinition of home that takes place in Smitha Murthy and Dorothee Lang’s Worlds Apart (2012) along with the analysis of childhood environs in Jessie Carty’s Paper House (2010) and you have the concept of home being central to every non-anthology paperback that Folded Word has published to-date.

Now I am a scientist by training (MS Biology 1995), so I understand that correlation does NOT equal causation. My search, whether conscious or subconscious, is not the only reasonable explanation for the prevalence of home in my print selections. Alternatives might be:

  • Home is a central concept for most humans, therefore it plays a key role in most manuscripts.
  • Being a competent writer requires a degree of “square peggedness” because the societal tension created by not fitting in allows a person to more objectively observe the world and its inhabitants, thereby creating a yearning to find a place to fit in (i.e. social/emotional home). The resultant observations form the basis of the conflicts that make written work interesting.
  • The appearance of home in these books is mere coincidence. Random. A fractal-like artifact of our chaotic submissions queue.
  • These books haven’t actually been about home at all, I just projected that onto them. [Any thoughts, my long-suffering authors?]

I’m not sure how aggressively to explore this. It’s difficult to design any kind of scientific analysis since there can be a 2-3 year lag between the time a submission is accepted and the book actually makes it into print. But I think it would be really interesting if, after the relocation issue is settled and I’m home (where/whatever that ends up being), Folded never publishes a home-centric book again.

I would love to hear alternate theories or support/rebuttal of the theories above. I’d also love to know if you’ve recently read any books that deal with the concept of home, or even if you are writing one yourself. The comments section below is ready and waiting for your input:-)

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kaleidescope view of FREIGHT’s final word

quest(ion) 2013: HOME

HOME. It’s a Middle English word with Old English, Old Norse, and Old Germanic roots. It’s a word with a long list of meanings. It’s also a word that has consistently caused me angst, especially when filling in the “home town” blank on social media info pages. I have moved around quite a bit—not as much as military kids, but enough to make the concept problematic—and it always seems to me that to answer the question with one place denies the experience and friends of another place.

In a fortnight, I will embark on a year-long quest to answer the question: What is home? This is a personal journey (I would never presume to attempt tackling this in any universal sense) made necessary by a health crisis set off by my well-intentioned purchase of a memory-foam mattress 18 months ago. But more about that in the coming year. Right now I have to focus on packing for the first leg of this journey: six weeks in rural New Hampshire, beginning on Christmas Eve.

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my January 2013 reading stack