My very first memories are of my childhood home, Lamara Apartments, a duplex community in Savannah, Georgia. It is January, just after my sister was born. I am sitting on the concrete stoop and the green space just outside our duplex sparkles with snow. Just past my feet there is a tiny snowman that my mother made; its eyes are two small pieces of red cinnamon candy and they are slowly staining the snow a deep rose red. My mother leans out the back door and checks on me and then returns inside. A new sister and a miraculous Savannah snow, my toes and fingers aching with cold, a small snowman with stained cinnamon eyes. The first memories of home.
Flash forward many decades to another place, another time and another snow.
In the winter of 2014, I was living in the upper most reaches of Manhattan and it was to be my last New York winter. It snowed heavily, stirring that old childlike thrill as it thudded against coat, caught on eyelashes and hair, crunched beneath boots. My big dog Sophie and I took long walks in the nearby nature preserve. Sometimes I let her off leash and she barreled forward, her nose buried in the powdery white, occasionally turning her head over her shoulder to feast on feathery flakes caught in her fur. But, for all the snowy magic, something was missing: a sense of roots, of safety and belonging maybe, a sense of home. This was not home as I knew it -- the one from my coastal Savannah childhood, all marsh mud and chiggery Spanish moss and salt sea air. Not like the one from my midland Georgia adulthood either, with a crookedy cottage on a crookedy creek, sandy flood plain alive with chipmunks and slippery black snakes, and a Great Blue Heron walking the creeks shoals on stilted legs looking for fish. Somewhere "home" waited for me and in the spring of 2014 I decided to leave New York and return to Georgia, the last place I remembered that felt like "home".
The return to Georgia has gone in very unexpected directions. It feels less like taking up where I left off and more like starting all over again. And if I thought moving back would mean fewer problems and cares -- well, wonder of wonders, the problems I had to manage in New York have followed me down the eastern seaboard and set up residence here as well.
Hmmm. Is it possible for any of us to find our way home again? The answer is no and yes. On the one hand, no, we can't return to the worlds of our childhood or our young adulthood or whatever familiar and comfortable "home" where we once resided. On the other hand, yes, we can. Or, to put it another way, -- yes, we can return home because -- "Home is knowing. Knowing your heart, knowing your mind, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we're always home, anywhere." This homey quote is probably familiar to you if you have ever witnessed the exchange between Glinda the Good Witch and Dorothy at the conclusion of The Wizard of Oz.
Here's my own personal returning-to-Kansas-discovery. Somewhere in me still lives the child from the Savannah beaches and marsh, the mother and wife and artist of the North Georgia creeks and flood plains. I treasure those times but I remember them (I hope) with as little nostalgia as possible. The key has been to truthfully hold the reality of home, allowing for both its perfections and its flaws. Somewhere in that idea, there is a truth that is larger than "home". Somewhere in that idea of home, there is a key to how we hold our relationships, our work, our lives, about how we hold our very world in our hands.
You always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.
Glinda again to Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
I return again to home, my new-old home, and the place I dreamed about during a snowy winter in New York. In my neighborhood there are eight free-range chickens five doors down. From time to time the eggs are for sale on Facebook. One homeowner recently hired a herd of goats to clear out a side yard overtaken by thickets. There is another neighbor who has built a small dog house in their side yard for the exclusive use of a territorial possum (who never plays dead). At Christmas the entire area is a crazy display of over the top lights and inflatable decorations. During a downpour, my garage floods, the storm drain clogged with eroded landscape mulch. My little house is still a stenciled-half-painted-patched-up-work-in-progress but welcomed the first official family celebration earlier this year. And just before that celebration, in the neighborhood park, on a small wooden bridge near a stand of dancing water grasses, my son gave his fiancé her ring. My hands are reverently holding it all, a home brimming over with chickens, goats, stenciled floors, crazy holiday lights, possum houses and love on a bridge over water grasses.