I come from a family of wanderers. As a first-generation American, all the stories of my family were stories from different lands and different cultures. All of my aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins came here in ships and then spread out to populate the east and west coasts.
I don’t know how this wanderer energy expressed itself inside of each of them, but for me, it is a restlessness—an anxiety—that percolates up from my very bone marrow. For many years, I did not recognize it for what it was. I thought that circumstance just happened to necessitate my need to move to a new place every two-to-four years throughout my adult life…
I came up with all sorts of reasons as to why I had to once again pack up all my possessions, leave friends behind, and hire a moving truck. Actually, the only reason for any of it was that wanderlust, which hit me harder than many of my family members. Yes, they moved about, but I moved many of orders of magnitude more often, and usually farther away.
We moved to MillHaven in the summer of 2013. In the past year, I have already been toying with the idea of my next move. To waterfront? A smaller, more easily managed yard? An intentional community? A trailer?
What is the genesis—where and who—of this unceasing urgency to be off and gone? How many generations of my ancestors have felt this stirring and translated it into migrations near and far?
I am reflecting on this lately, because in the past month I have come to decision in my life that challenges me like no other: I have decided to stay put.
To be honest, I’ve made this decision before but it has never held water. The tide of restlessness in my bones always crested into a froth, my internal levies of resolve crumbled, and off I flowed. Again.
But this time is different. Never before have I felt quite so keenly what all these moves have cost me: Lost friendships, incalculable stress, the tearing up of roots only recently fixed to place, and the destruction of all the tenderly and tentatively crafted rituals that each new place enticed within me.
Memories of tapping our maple trees for syrup, the ceremonious rescue of roadside box turtles in the spring, the feeding each night of my flying squirrel tribe in Indiana. The bugling of elk in the autumn Rockies, Sundance ceremonies, the roads to Yellowstone opening up again each spring. All of these things, I wish I had experienced for many more years.
These are only the barest few of seasonal rituals that sought to anchor me more deeply each year into the magic of sacred place, but I only gave them the briefest of chances to ground me, root me, and heal me before moving on. Ironically, I find that it takes me just about three or four years in a new place to forge the first new friendships, learn the track of the seasons in a new place, have a few holidays under my belt. I seem to have moved at just the exact time true enrichment would have begun.
I’m not for a minute saying that a migratory life is a bad life. I’ve seen so many wonders, dipped my toe into profound friendships, and lived in every degree and kind of weather and landscape. I’m saying that now, at this juncture, I want to taste the fruits of a rooted life.
I have been a goose, flying high and far. I’ve been an antelope, striding to warmer climes each winter. I’ve been the lone wolf, wearing my feet raw ranging across many states, searching for my pack. Now, I would like to be a moose—the quintessential homebody tethered by choice to a small circumference of miles. I want to be a bee, knowing the intimacies of flowers and resins close to home.
I’ve decided to begin the process of embedding myself at MillHaven by crafting rituals and ceremonies unique to my home ground. There is nothing quite like tradition to deepen and sweeten attachment to place. I know this because I haven’t lived anywhere long enough to create homemade traditions, and I am missing what I’ve not had.
I’ve already begun! Some traditions are now growing out of activities I’ve undertaken in my new surrounds. Last year, Carter and I went to the coast for Christmas. Both our families were far away or traveling, so we packed up Mazel Tov, a tiny glass Christmas tree, and the bundle of small wrapped packages from thrift stores where we now shop for Christmas presents.
We had such fun we’re going back this year with son and granddaughter, and Mazel Tov, of course. And that glass tree.
Next year will be the fifth spring that I will gather duckweed from my favorite bog to make a green carpet for bees and frogs in our fountains.
Last autumn, I helped my friend Pixie dig dandelion roots after the first frost. We washed, chopped, and toasted them, and I ground the roots and put a bit in our coffeemaker until they all ran out. This year, I told Carter that I want to make a First-Frost Dandy Dig tradition in our backyard. We’ll go out and pull and wash and get all muddy, and it will be great fun. In the doing, I will remember fondly last year’s digging with my friend. And in the pulling of the roots, I will be sending down some of my own into the ever-richening ground around my sweet little home.
Beekeeping has a calendar of tending traditions through the seasons. This time of the year, I’ve shrunk the hive entrances to keep out the wind and the mice. I folded foil heat blankets beneath the lids of the hives to keep the warmth in, and put up a windbreak on the east side of the apiary, where we get fierce winds rumbling out of the Columbia Gorge.
There are some tasks I have been doing daily, but I realized that if I only did these tasks seasonally, they would be less onerous, and I could transform them from tasks to traditions: Why, for instance, should I keep feeding hummingbirds all year long when my yard is full of organic hummingbird forage and flowers from spring through late fall? The sugar is not cheap, and probably not all that healthy for hummers anyway.
So, this year I put my feeders away in April, and I just took them out again last week. If we get hard freezes, the hummers will be just fine beneath my heated feeders. And I’ll have three months of close contact with these tiny, jeweled beings.
The seasons are rituals, aren’t they? Each has its traditions, be it snow, ice, flowing waters, revitalizing sunshine. Each has its holidays. Each has its animals: Autumn geese, spring robins, summer cicadas, winter owls. And each season is reflected uniquely in its particular place.
I am stepping now into the community of the seasons, augmenting and honoring nature’s exquisite traditions with some of my own.
In his later years, Freud decided that the goal of nature was death. That all life was dying from the moment of its conception until its last breath. Granted, that phrase about nature being red of tooth and claw has its place and nature can be harsh and hard. But she can also be comforting, nurturing, inspiring, generous, and transformative. In her seasons, she glories in her place, each place. Each place like no other.
As I watch the autumn ceremonies of falling leaves, skeletal trees, ice forming, and salmon gliding into the cold rivers, I move ever deeper into connection with this place, my place. My home like no other. My home where I will welcome the lessons of rootedness.
What traditions have you crafted in your own sacred place?
You are such an extraordinary person, Susan, and one who also happens to write ever so richly. I felt myself nodding all through this story, yes, yes, and not for me only, but thinking to myself, if Susan decides to stay on, I will continue to have a good friend nearby. Bless you.
Yes, Jacqueline, you are part of my long-term community! Blessings right back at you!
Its been a while since I’ve read your blog, it was a nice surprise in my in box! Like your post today it is good to hear from you, another season of connection! Sending a smile and a hug from the North! When will your next book be out?! 🙂
Hi Denise! Good to “see” you again!Next book, still in the works….
Such a beautiful post! I love your words about transforming tasks to traditions – pure poetry. Susan, did you ever see the movie Chocolat? Your story reminds me of the character played by Juliette Binoche—a wanderer who decides to stay put for awhile. I think you and she would have a lot to talk about! xoxo Chris
Ha, Chocolat! Yes, I would have good conversations with a woman who made enchanted chocolates and wore a red cape! My kinda gal!