“We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” ~Winston Churchill
We all have a land where we come from, a special place that even if the memory burns painfully, it still calls to us. It’s home. And we all know what that means, even if it’s difficult to articulate.
I’ve been thinking of the place that raised me, mostly due to images and videos that have come my way, as well as the onset of summer, which always seems to bring a hearkening with it, regardless of where I am.
I grew up in the hamlet of Cottage Grove, Oregon, nestled in the rolling green contour of the Willamette Valley. A place both Bilbo and Norman Rockwell would have been comfortable. It’s a land of distinct seasons, each with their own magic and color. The rain does come, fiercely and at other times drizzly and brooding. But even then its misty atmosphere has its own beauty.
The place where we grow up forms us, imparts itself to us in ways that can be both suffocating and deeply comforting. And as much as we love the security of home, we also want to see what’s around the next bend. I’ve always viewed this particular dichotomy as the pull of the valley, the push of the wind. The calling to where the womb formed me against the tension of the undiscovered adventure that awaits.
I’ve lived in a few places that have taken me away. After college in Southern Oregon, I lived in Los Angeles where I traded the green and wet for the concrete, gritty air and calloused environ. I then lived in Seattle, called the Emerald City for good reason. It’s beautiful, hugged on each side by islands and water and the sentry that is Mt. Rainier. I spent nearly a quarter of a century in the area and for the most part loved it. Most of my career was birthed there, as well as discovering deep friendships, opportunity, and yes, pain. Canyon deep, at times.
I then had the opportunity to live in a land that always had a romantic bent for me. Moving to Texas, first Austin, then to the East side of the state where piney woods give way to rolling cattle hills, gave me a chance to test that romantic vision. It was true, for the most part. The generosity of the people was nearly as expansive as the sky, but parts of the culture could be small. And the heat could be…intense.
Arkansas is where I currently call home. Living first in Little Rock, a vortex for the civil rights struggle now a cross section of expanding culture and southern hospitality. Ironically, I learned that my mother had lived in Little Rock for a short time right after World War II, which I found incredible as I had never imagined moving as far east as I had. For a while there, moving from Washington State to Texas, to Arkansas, I expected to hit water should I keep my heading eastward. Now, along with the woman who is the best part of me and our ever-growing furry menagerie, we’ve settled in the tiny community of Snowball. There’s a general store there and not much else. Well, that’s not accurate. The Buffalo River National Park is about a half mile from our property. More importantly, it’s the same community of folks I seemed to have grown up with. Older for the most part, industrious, kind and generous to a fault. They embraced us as soon as we moved here to build our dream home. And ironically, one of the reasons I love this little spot is that it reminds me of the Valley; where I played hide-n-seek, whispered dreams to the best friends you can only make at that time in your life (and gratefully deepening those relationships as you age) and eventually took a piece of it with me as I formed a life and home across the country.
It’s a little like a tree, isn’t it? An apple tree starts as a seed that falls in rich soil it calls home but then gets blown along, far away perhaps, only to settle in a new patch of soil where it makes its dwelling. It grows a trunk, tendrils out branches and sprouts leaves. Soon it bears fruit. And why? So that it can give of itself. The tree is planted to grow…and provide for others.
And so it is with us. I moved away from my home, from a land I cherished and always thought I’d return to settle down and breathe out my last days. But God had other plans, as He so often does. I have now found a new piece of land, new soil from which to grow. And in establishing a new home, I find comfort and purpose because I know we’re being planted not just for ourselves, but also to give ourselves away for others.
The Valley still pulls every now and again. But I no longer feel the push of the wind. Maybe that’s because I’m home.