Early morning under a cloudy sky, and I awaken to the unfamiliar sound of cars hurrying down the road to work. Our old house was on a dead-end street. The sound of traffic is new to my body, and I realize a slight tensing in my shoulders with every whoosh of an automobile. I turn my head to take in the sight of a new Northwest morning, and am delighted to see a gray squirrel bouncing across our side lawn. He is the first I’ve seen on the property. Note to self: put out sunflower seeds.

Carter appears at the foot of the bed to bring me my morning cup of coffee and Mazel Tov follows on his heels, wagging his tail so hard his entire body wiggles. In his mouth is a green tennis ball. He has two tennis balls. A green one and a pink one and he keeps them close to his bed when they are not in his mouth…

I realize that I forgot, once again, to set aside cereal to soak for our breakfast. And I forgot to make our nettle tea, too. These tasks used to be part of my every-evening routine back in Bloomington. I would do them automatically at the close of each evening, but my auto-pilot is not working here.

“When you move to a new place,” an old landlord once told me, “there is not one single move your body makes that is automatic. You have to think about each and every little motion that used to come automatically. It takes a lot of energy to settle into a new place,” he said. Isn’t it funny, the things we remember from decades ago that pop up instantly years later when the situation is ripe? Perhaps this is life’s way of advising you years before the fact.

Ed, my landlord, was right. I’d intentionally set up our new house to mimic our old one on purpose for just this reason, but of course, there are hundreds of differences, great and small. My body shifts clumsily turning left into the bathroom where I always had turned right, or reaching behind me instead of in front for the toothpaste, walking three steps behind me to grab the spices that used to be in reach to my left and the pots and pans that used to be on a shelf to my right. I open my eyes each morning and look out from my bed onto a blank wall. The window is on the left side of the room, now.

As I struggle to orient myself in a new world, my mind precedes my movements with “I put the cat box….where? The dog food is…where? The car is…where?” Of course, these are not life and death adjustments, but I am keenly aware of them, and of how tired I am at the end of the day as my body seeks new routines and works to make them effortlessly automatic.

In a familiar place, it feels as if my body simply carries me around, to and fro, while my mind is free to wander. In a new place, my mind works ceaselessly to carry my body.

Of course, all this makes me think of animals and wonder how they adjust to new landscapes. At WildCare where I used to volunteer, we released injured and orphaned wildlife back into nature, most often in a new location from where we found them. Too often, they had come to us from someone’s backyard, or from a highway, or from a supermarket parking lot—all terrible release sites.

I can’t help but wonder how they orient themselves to a new place. I’m certain that it must be stressful, and that they must be at great risk until they learn their new territory: where the hiding places are, where the food is to be found, who the competition is.

Years ago when I had a small farm, I came to believe in the Rule of Three. That is, any new animal to the farm would take three days to simply calm down enough to eat again, three weeks to tentatively carve out a fragile place in the barn hierarchy, three months to melt seamlessly into the backyard landscape of critter and grass and tree, and three years to be fully “home.” I came up with that rule by watching closely, and right now, I am watching myself curiously to see if the Rule of Three applies to me, as well.

I think the Rule will apply for Mazel Tov. He is exhibiting some amount of confusion and stress at finding himself out of the Enchanted Forest, away from his friend and sister, Hannah. I set up our TV space as close as possible to the configuration in Bloomington, because it is the place where we end up spending a lot of our cozy time together as a family. Mazel sleeps on the double recliner and has his extra doggy bed a few feet away against a wall, just as it has always been. His cup of dog treat are still on the bookshelf over by Carter’s side of the chair. We still settle in into the big recliner for dinner and nightly news, and Mazel is still encouraged to come up and cuddle on the chair between us. When I leave the room for bed, Mazel takes over my side of the chair and sprawls there with Carter for late-night TV and pretzels.

But these days, Carter and I have switched our positions on the chair. Carter is now on the right and I’m on the left. Just this small change has been very noticeable to all of us. I’m not used to Carter sitting on my right. Neither is Mazel Tov, who used to sleep with his butt digging into my hip and his face turned adoringly up at his poppa. Now when Mazel crawls up into the chair, he looks puzzled. Sometimes he will sit between us, looking from one of us to the other, whining softly. So strong is his habit of butt right, face left that he is keeping this routine, shoving his rear into Carter’s arm and sprawling all over my chest.

Like as not, he will bring his ball along with him. This is a new development for Mazel, this ball thing. He used to be a stick-chasing dog, but just before we moved, we discovered the world of plastic ball slingers, and started converting Mazel from stick to ball, because we can trow a ball with this contraption about five times further than we could ever toss a stick.

I notice that each member of our family is trying to find a sense of grounding in this new place. I think Mazel’s grounding rod is his ball. He carries it with him everywhere. Yesterday—and boy, do I ever wish we had a video of this—Mazel raced over to bark at a visitor, but he could not bear to put down his ball. So he simply barked around the ball: “Mrrrroof mrrrroof mrreeeoof oof ooof!”

My personal grounding rod seems to be cooking. I am seeking to orient myself here through the making of meals—desert, especially. After the fourth version of strawberry shortcake in as many days—this one with a side of rhubarb puree—Carter tells me he’s gained five pounds in the week we’ve been here. Maybe I need a ball…

I’ve moved maybe a hundred times in my life, but this is the first time I’ve moved with this kind of deeper self-awareness. I place the credit for that on my meditation practice. I’m much more keenly aware of myself and others, and it adds a wonderful new dimension to this new phase of my life. I find myself delighting in both the similarities and differences of this place.

There are weeds in this yard, just as in my old one, that are deliciously edible, and some are the same—like the sweet beds of succulent chickweed—and some, like the patches of delicate miner’s lettuce, are different. There are frogs here, like in my old home, but these are at a distance, somewhere in the bushes and trees surrounding this place, and I know them by their croaks rather then their faces. There is magic here as there was in Indiana, but much of it it is in the waters rather than in the forests. This place fairly throbs with an deep, organic, intense wetness, streaming from the sky, from the rivers, from the lakes, over stones and trees and flowers.

In this little blue house, everything is only a short few steps away, and the simpleness of the house makes me smile and fills me with a sense of peace. Big houses overwhelm me. I have no auto-pilot here yet, but at least my new steps are fewer and easier to make. I will not make maple syrup in this house, but I believe there will be fruit on the trees to process and keep, and so the routine of making, storing, keeping, cooking remain the same. In that small relational hoop of same-but-different, I find that sense of peace and grounding that—given time—will transform into the heart of home and belonging.

Outside, the robins are darting this way and that, filling their mouths with worms to feed the just-born clutch of nestlings in the carport rafters. I have an image, then, of their feet tickling the ground as they trace an unseen labyrinth on the face of the Earth. Note to self: Go barefoot. I imagine the Earth waking up beneath the robins’ tender accupressure and sending a good-morning tickle coursing back up through their legs. All animals have this—a physical/ spiritual connection to their worldly home.  A connection that cannot be broken or upturned easily, and I envy them this gift from the gods—that they are always at home, at once, and everywhere. What gentle, colorful reminders they are to me of the groundedness I am seeking and that is, I am certain, likewise seeking me.

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8 Responses to ORIENTATION

  1. Cindy says:

    What a lovely, heartfelt post. I certainly remember my own need to orient and stabilize myself when I went through my divorce two years ago and moved into a new home. Eventually landing on my feet (and becoming stronger then ever), I went through all the things you have written about so eloquently. The familiar needed to fade away, but the new surroundings began slowly to acquaint themselves with me. I smudged my new house, and I went around hugging my walls….I probably looked silly, but I was so raw and laid low that nothing seemed silly if it brought me comfort. I told my new home that I wanted to love it as much as my old home. I told it I would give it time to grow on me and that I would tenderly care for this new home as if I was tending a child. Gentleness and staying open to what would come next was my saving grace. My home now takes care of me as well as I take of it. I have a love affair with my surroundings, everything brings me joy, everywhere I look I feel gratitude. And yes, cooking was another way to deeply comfort and ground me in this new place.

    Your beautiful spirit will show you the way, it already has, and in the days and weeks to come you will build a bond and an intimacy with this new place.

    Wishing you gentle days and peaceful evenings, Susan.


  2. aletheia mystea says:

    Hi Susan, well this is lovely to read. I’m curious though, as I thought this is a temporary abode…maybe you will stay longer than I know. Sounds wonderful though and it does take time to settle in specially as the years go by…

    We are in a serious fire event in Ft. Collins and surrounding hills….BIG time fire situation and very impressive display to be so close to!!!!

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Aletheia: Yup, this is a temporary move—a rental—but we have no idea yet how long we may be here. Much is up in the air, and I believe now more than ever that we all must really invest ourselves in the adventure of our journeys, as we have NO idea what the destination will be! For now, I’m going to inbed myself here as if I am here for good, because who knows what or when the next step will be!

  3. Carter says:

    Science used to tell us that we live in a “local” universe. Change requires an active force and that force affects its surroundings. Now they tell us that the universe isn’t local after all. They say that an action over here can have an IMMEDIATE affect over there. Even when over there is millions of miles away, the affect is immediate. The kicker is that little word IMMEDIATE, which has science scratching its collective head over how the effect can be immediate. That means that the interaction, at a distance, occurs faster than the speed of light. Nobody knows how it happens but scientists now agree that the effect is real, its called entanglement.

    Well, the whole universe, they say, was at one time a singularity. This is a fancy word for an infinitely small point. If this is true, everything was the same and in the same form and in the same place. Everything was nothing because that is really what infinitely small means-infinitesimal-immeasurably small. And if this is true then the entire universe is entangled and communicates over a distance.

    Interesting you say but what does that have to do with this post. Well Susan and I, having moved here from over there are still entangled with over there where we were interacting with that place. We now find ourselves in a new place, still entangled with the old place and trying to interact with a new place. Once we break the bond with the old we will have moved into the new.

    Now, scientists will say that entanglement operates on a “quantum” level-the realm of atomic particles, therefore the affect on the world as we know it is irerelevant. Ok, that’s what theory says. But has science ever been wrong?

    As for me, it’s all a mystery and i’ll just leave it there.

  4. Sandra Kennedy says:

    Susan: Epictetus said, “Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens”…and I know that you will. Enjoy your beginning as every ending has a new and exciting beginning…a whole new world is opening its arms and heart to you and Carter.


  5. marie says:

    I have moved several times and what I have realized is that when you move to a new place you don’t get there all at once. You get there bit by bit. What I mean is that not all of you gets to your new place. A lot of you stays behind and with time you realize you’re getting part of you back and one day out of the blue you realize all of you has moved and is finally there. I am a francophone. I don’t know if I have expressed clearly what I wanted to say but I hope you got the idea. I have just moved again last August and thought I was going to be here temporarily but something happened in the Spring, I got a strong feeling of belonging here on my 3 acres of land, alone here with my dogs and cats and I think …now this is it, this is home, I think I’m gonna stay and put down roots, which I have been doing literally since I’ve beeng planting shrubs and trees like there’s no tomorrow haha!!


    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hi Marie: Yes, we are still parceled out to Indiana, especially because our house remains there, unsold, and I feel these cable lines binding my heart to that home. We are a tiny bit here, and loving that tiny bit. I think we will call this area “home” in time!

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