Rooms of Our Own
Myth & Moor update

The center called love

Oak elder

In the following passage from Storming the Gates of Paradise, American cultural philosopher Rebecca Solnit says what I've so often wanted to say when conversations here in England turn to the country of my birth:

"I was at a dinner in Amsterdam when the question came up of whether each of us loved his or her country. The German shuddered, the Dutch were equivocal, the Brit said he was 'comfortable' with Britain, the expatriate American said no. And I said yes. Driving now across the arid lands, the red lands, I wondered what it was I loved. The places, the sagebrush basins, the rivers digging themselves deep canyons through arid lands, the incomparable cloud formations of summer monsoons, the way the underside of clouds turns the same blue as the underside of a great blue heron's wings when the storm is about to break.

"Beyond that, for anything you can say about the United States, you can also say the opposite: we're rootless except we're also the Hopi, who haven't moved in several centuries; we're violent except we're also the Franciscans nonviolently resisting nucelar weapons out here; we're consumers except the West is studded with visionary environmentalists...and the landscape of the West seems like the stage on which such dramas are played out, a space without boundaries, in which anything can be realized, a moral ground, out here where your shadow can stretch hundreds of feet just before sunset, where you loom large, and lonely.”

That's it exactly. It's why I still love America, even though Dartmoor has claimed my heart. I've never been more aware of how fundamentally North American I am than now, living an ocean away. It is my home. And Dartmoor is home. And the very word home is fraught with contradictions.

Reading beneath the Oak Elder

"All of us," wrote the late English naturalist Roger Deakin, "carry about in our heads places and landscapes we shall never forget because we have experienced such intensity of life there: places where, like the child that 'feels its life in every limb' in Wordsworth's poem We Are Seven, our eyes have opened wider, and all our senses have somehow heightened. By way of returning the compliment, we accord these places that have given us such joy a special place in our memories and imaginations. They live on in us, wherever we may be, however far from them."

I feel the truth of this deep in my bones. I am rooted here on Dartmoor now: in a village nestled between two hills; in a tumbledown house on one hill's slope; in a tapestry stitched of oak and stream, wild ponies and grazing sheep. But other landscapes haunt my dreams. They haunt my waking hours too, sometimes so real that I can almost smell the smoke of an Arizona desert campfire, the tang of cafe con leche in a New York cafe, or the salt sea air of the Boston docks. Past and present blend together, and at the midnight hour, I hear coyotes howl in the Devon hills.

Dartmoor pony crossing through the field

"The desire to go home," says Rebecca Solnit, "[is] a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood."

But where exactly is home? It is there and then. It is here and now. It is lost in the precious or painful past, and it is somewhere in the future we're walking toward. It is in the words I'm writing and the images I'm painting. It's in solitude, and in family life. It's a feeling as elusive as memory and as solid as this hound beside me. It's in the closing of the book, the rising from the moss, the whistle for Tilly: Come girl, let's go. It is waiting for us at the end of the path. At the kitchen door. At the resolution of the story. It is this: the hill. The wind. The center of the world, that center called love.

Well rooted dog

Oak and words

Words: The passages about are from Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics by Rebecca Solnit (University of California Press, 2007) and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin (Hamish Hamilton, 2008). The poem in the picture captions is from Collected Poems by Helen Cruickshank (Reprographia, 1971). All rights reserved by the authors or their estates. Pictures: Winter coffee break beneath a favourite oak in a nearby field. Three related posts: A hunger for place, Knowing our place, and Kith & kin.

Comments

I went 'home' recently, to the little Yorkshire dale where I lived for years and my parents lived for decades, and the love and the memories are so strong and so overwhelming that every time I go I spend my first hour on the border of tears.

Beautiful. Such a precious piece of writing that I want to keep it to reread it, knowing now the beauty of it will only deepen.

Hi Terri

I am so deeply drawn to these beautiful essay and your own perspective on the subject of home and what constitutes the personal aspects and beauty of it. For me, it is the memories I hold of childhood in the countryside of New York with its apple orchards and horse pastures, stone walls and green mountains looming over the Hudson River like ancient guardians but much more as well. Currently, my place of belonging/being is in the high desert of California. Not only the landscape and mysterious sense of climate but also this sense of connectivity to the creatures of earth and sky. I have nurtured/rescued tiny lizards from the heat and returned them to the wild when the season's coolness permitted the transition. And from that experience, I've developed a kinship with them, a centering of my soul and my perspective -- how everything is related and turns radiant in the light of that discovery. How they have drawn me in and allowed me to call this place home.


A Natural Alchemy

our eyes have opened wider, and all our senses
have somehow heightened
Roger Deakin

A lizard clings to a leaf and the dark green
of his body becomes the green
of foliage. His limbs and tail its veins. And lying there,
he absorbs the morning sun
and the voice of a desert woman
singing over him. Breath and light
blend into something new, a totem
of inspiration as she gives her song
to the gratitude of knowing
that being transcends into being
all that surrounds and supports her. The pulse
of the earth still felt -- when the wind hushes
among the trees and the water calms letting her perceive
much more than her own reflection.

Stunning post, Terri, about a subject that has always been difficult for me. Writing to you from the main branch of the New York Public LIbrary, looking up into an ornate ceiling with cherubim and a painted sky hovering above. One of my homes. I will cherish this essay.

Oh Terri. This post brought me to tears and means so much to me. I very much miss the home of my childhood, even though that time was incredibly difficult, and I very much love the home of my present, even though I sometimes feel I have no real claim to it as a transplant. Thank you for reminding me that all homes, all feelings of home, are valid. Your words in this piece are extraordinarily beautiful.

Beautiful poem, Wendy. I've been away too long. Wishing you well and so happy to see your words again.

All I can say is yes to all this.

For those of us who spent their childhood and early adulthood moving around the world, home is a difficult thing to define and there is no going back. I used to find the question, Where are you from?” Impossible to answer. Now, after 40 years in Connecticut, I finally have geographical roots; it is a place that I felt comfortable in almost at once because the trees reminded me of Germany; the place names and history reminded me of England, the ocean reminded me of summers spent in Italy, Spain and France. We found genealogical roots here, ancestors buried in local graves, grandfathers who attended Yale, etc. But, and this is the crux of home for me, the only thing constant for me growing up were the books we carried from house to apartment to villa. And in those books the picture of home (the United States in which I’d spent very few months) was nearly always of a New England of seasons, village greens, and white clapboard houses. That was what I thought of as the illusory home, despite the vastness and diversity of the nation, and here I am nestled in among the stone walls and rambling tree-lined roads, home at last with all my books around me.

Hi Edith

It's so good hearing from you! Thank you so much for the lovely comment on my poem. I deeply appreciate it. Also wishing you and your family a very joyous and inspirational New Year.

again, thank you!
Wendy

The Border of Tears


"I spend my first hour
on the border of tears."--Katherine Langrish


So here I am in Scotland,
where my house sits
between two weathers,'
the back garden filled with haar
and a hint of rain,
front door hulked down
under a sulking sun.


Soon I will return
to the border of tears,
my American home
where we now tremble
under the lash of ice
and children weep in cages.
Yet I love them both.


Borderlands can be hard places
where we lay our heads down
on pillows,
rise up from rocks.


There is no escape
from the scape of land.
Even Death has valleys,
like life, like love.


@2020 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I always love your desert poems, Wendy, for you let me into the beauty of a world I have only visited and never truly inhabited.--JANE

Hi Jane

Borderlands can be hard places
where we lay our heads down
on pillows,
rise up from rocks.


There is no escape
from the scape of land.
Even Death has valleys,
like life, like love.

As always, you leave me haunted by the truth and beauty I find in your words and perspective. We often find ourselves torn between two places, both within our own selves and the places we inhabit. We are part of the land, it shapes our health, our mind-set and our ability to survive and adapt.

Thank you so much for sharing this poem, I so much enjoy reading your work.

My Best always,
Wendy

Dear Jane

Thank you so much for these wonderful words regarding this poem. I deeply appreciate them and always relish your perspective.

The high desert landscape is a beguiling place and it does call one into its world. I am drawn to so much of its nature, in particular, the Joshua trees and the variety of small lizards. They teach me and inspire me. And it is a rugged place but also and oddly beautiful one.

Take care,
Wendy

Hi Judith

That part of the library sounds like a beautiful place and one that could be very conducive to writing. Most of the libraries I have been in did not have any murals or such beautiful ceilings but I have seen such art in other places' and they alone, would inspire me.

Best
Wendy

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)