Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gone Away

I dreamed yesterday morning of the land where I grew up.

The land where I grew up was not a family farm. We're all allowed to romanticize a family farm. We see something admirable in families trying to maintain ties to the old homestead, when it's a farm that's been in the family for generations.

But my home was not on an old home place, just a two acre plot of woodlot, lawn, and garden with a somewhat boxy two story house put up in the sometime between 1920 and 1940, at a guess, with a beautiful oval rock garden, three tall clumps of lilac trees, four apple trees, two pears, and (when I was young) a plum tree. There were hemlocks, swamp maples, one sugar maple, and many towering ash trees standing guard at the edge of the property, along the tumbledown fieldstone wall.

Our house was brown, with a hardwood floor my father put in himself, and kitchen cabinets and formica countertops he put in as well. There was a porch that ran all along the back wall of the house, and even on a winter afternoon, the strong sun through the glassed-in walls could make you feel like it was summer again. There were two abandoned tree forts on the property--one in the woods, which I grew up trying to set right, and another in the giant maple tree that shaded our porch roof in summer, and which my mother warned me never to attempt to reach, as the tree had grown so tall since it had been built that only a circus daredevil could reach it now.

There was a cistern filled with mosquito larvae, and an old artesian well covered with boards which I convinced myself hid Jenny Greenteeth, and which smelled like the aluminum cups my grandmother filled with water for us, which tasted cooler than any other water ever could.

And last night, I dreamed all of that was for sale.

A friend of my family wound up buying it, a woman who had never owned a home before, and I tried to be glad for her. While struggling not to cry, I congratulated her, and reminded myself that the alternative had been someone else buying the place, probably to rip out all the beautiful, mature trees, to flatten the hills, tear out the remaining glacial boulders, and throw up yet another generic McMansion on the hill. The trees would have to go, of course, to open up more of the View--the long, panoramic view of the Pioneer Valley.

I grew up with that view, though screened through the boughs of winter trees, of twinkling lights against a blue horizon. It's pretty. But it's not as much a part of the land as the trees were.

As the trees were. Because, of course, when I awoke, I realized that, indeed, my family home has been sold--years ago in fact, and not to a family friend. Strangers bought my home, and leveled it, tore out the lilacs, the ash trees, the apples and maples and roses, and did put up another McMansion, on their new, bare, pristine green lawn.

But it's not a farm that I'm mourning, so no one particularly cares. I'm no Native American, whose ties to the land can be safely sentimentalized. I'm ordinary, and that plot of land was ordinary, too. It's just another two acre plot, one that hadn't been used to its full financial potential, like an investment not tended.

My society has no place in it for loving land, for being in relationship with it. My parents' child, I had no legal rights to the trees or the stone wall. In fact, after it sold, but before my home was leveled, I snuck onto the land like a thief, to bear away a single stone from the stone wall.

I have it still. I'd have preferred the worked stone step that led to the house, but that would have been too large a theft for me. I'm sure it was tossed aside in some construction dump when everything else came down, that stone where I sat, a child of four, gazing up in wonder at the tall trees overhead.

Mystery has no price tag, and so Mystery has no value. Childhood love has no profit or contract or name, and so childhood love is cheap. We are foolish, rootless people, and we have no homeland and no shame, because we will not see these things, or understand that they are true.

From Between Old and New Moons:
Who’s Participating

Please add this list to your Synchroblog post so that readers can find everyone’s posts.

The Aquila ka Hecate: King and the Land are One
Symbolic Meanings: Symbolic Landscapes of the Norse Mythology
Quaker Pagan Reflections: Gone Away
Executive Pagan: Nature and Me
Manzanita, Redwoods, and Laurel: The Importance of Local Landscapes
The Dance of the Elements: Landscape and Mythology
Pitch 313: Trancendental Experience Out of Doors Opens the Gateway to Magic
Druid's Apprentice: Landscape Synchroblogging
Paleothea: Ge, Gaia, Gaie: Earth
Mythprint: The Atlantis Legend
Druid Journal: Guest Post Merry Meetings
Between Old and New Moons: Chanting the Landscape

Any omissions are purely a matter of oversight; feel free to add your post to the comments section if you're participating in the synchroblog, and I'll get it up here as quick as I can. Comments on Mahud's post at Between Old and New Moons are being monitored, and I'll update this links section as often as I can.

Blessed be!

15 comments:

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Coincidentally, the morning I created this post, I learned of a synchroblog by Mahud over at Between Old and New Moons on the topic of landscapes.

I've added this post to the list there: if you'd like to see more, or to participate yourself, visit his post on the Landscapes synchroblog.

pitch313 said...

Nearly all of my most spiritually moving encounters with a place, or with the Land, include some sign of human intrusion, of damage done or trash left behind because somebody wanted to pull profit from the Earth or from what lives on the Earth.

My early memories of Northern California beaches include rusting WII vintage shipwrecks. My early memories of Coastal Redwood forests include the discarded machinery of logging and the stumps of felled trees.

Part of the mystery, for me, is what those, and many other places, were, would be, like without the human intrusion. In my imagination, they are always much more purely magical.

Anonymous said...

I was never there but this makes me so very sad... And yet, what a fabulous place to grow up.

Cynthia

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Cynthia, thanks for your comment. I think most of us who have loved a landscape in childhood have sadness as adults. So much has changed, and it seems like most of it is for the worse.

I need to remind myself vigorously that this is not precisely true--New England continues to regain its lost forests, and many species that were gone from my native woods when I was a girl are returning. The news isn't all bad.

But I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever be able to bond with a landscape the way I did as a child again. (I know that one reason I am a member at Mt. Toby Quaker meeting, specifically, is that it has the care of a large wooded hillside behind the meeting house. The connection to human community is important, but knowing that there is at least one plot of woods that is, in some way, my home, means a lot to me, too.

(For more on another sacred landscape near me which I've grown to love over the years, check out the recent New York Times story on Temenos, a Buddhist-Quaker retreat center. It's good to know the good places are not all gone.)

Riverwolf said...

Thanks for sharing this, Cat. And good for you to sneaking back to "rescue" that stone!

I'm struggling with several thoughts--I share your sadness. I, too had an "ordinary" childhood home place and the wooded acres that surrounded it. When they were cut down for apartments and a highway, it was surprisingly painful. And so it continues today...

However, while I do mourn the growing loss of land, I somehow have hope. Maybe those of us who understand the value of such mystery are here to help preserve this world, in whatever ways we can.

I'm fortunate to have found a connection to where I live now--or rather, maybe I was destined to be there. The land awakened in me a slumbering awareness, a connection that I had almost forgotten. It has changed me, and for that, I--and everything I touch from now on--will never be the same. In some odd way, this gives me hope.

Yvonne said...

Beautiful post, Cat, I agree - where do you put your love for landscape when you're in that particular historical cleft stick?

Here's my post on landscape and mythology.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hi,Yvonne,
I don't understand--what do you mean by "that particular historical cleft stick"?

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

And, Riverwolf, thanks for your comments. I do think it is possible to bond with new landscapes--particularly when you connect with them by healing their wounds, as I've known at least one organic farmer to do. The land awakens us... and we can awaken the land, I believe.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Sam Grace said...

Beautiful. I am glad to find your blog, and look forward to reading more. A lot of my perspective on religion comes from my Quaker schooling, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

-Ailia

P.S. I finished my landscape and myth blog, too, if you don't mind adding me to your list.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Sam/Ailia,
I'd love to add a link to your post! Could you leave the URL, either in a comment or as an email to me at quakerpagan AT mac DOT com?

I'm happy you found the blog--and looking forward to reading your ideas on landscape and myth, too.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Aha! I think you must be the same Ailia as publishes at Paleothea! Which would mean that your blog post is up at Ge Gaia, Gaie: Earth!

I'll post to the main entry right away! Woo-hoo!

mahud said...

Everything Changes. It is sad, but an unavoidable part of life.

My own hometown has been under constant development since the end of WWII, and with each following generation. All have an essentially a different landscape, layered upon the previous one. My Grandmother has told me the stories of how everything used to be when she was a child. It was much more rural back then. I love to listen to her stories, which have a living mythic presence, existing only in storytelling, memory and dream.

Much of the places that held magical power to me (mostly from my childhood) are no more.

Jorah said...

Cat, I loved the 7 acres I grew up on ..and the square miles of New England woods around that plot... with a love that sounds much like you describe. Going back there now, with a large factory building in the center, I find the torn edges unrecognizable. I want to spend some time there some day, to move slowly through the cat brier and hope to find a stone or stone wall that I remember from 40 years ago.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Jorah, thanks for stopping by! If you ever do revisit that plot of land, may you find your stone. I will say, I do feel as if some of the Spirits of Place that I loved as a child did follow me to my now-home, when I brought the stone here. Not that it undoes the sadness and loss!

If you ever write of your old home, or of a pilgrimage back there, I know I'd be moved to read it. This isn't a glamorous story, I suppose, but we can't be the only ones who have lived it. It deserves voice, just as the plots of quite-ordinary woods in New England deserve voice and honor for the sacred places they are, too. (It's not just Stonehenge or ancient burial sites where the earth is sacred, after all!)

Plain Foolish said...

And yet I count myself so blessed to have been given the opportunity to love the landscape I grew up in, because that love grew within me and shaped other loves within me.

Even as I sit in a busy city, with taxis going by and a huge crane erecting something across the street, my heart opens itself to the signs of spring I learned to recognize out past the middle of nowhere. I find myself watching for the grasses that push up through the cracks in the sidewalk, listening for songbirds in the shadows of the big buildings, and even grinning at the racoon which has colonized the office complex I work in.

Even as I wish I could run down to the shore this weekend, or up to the mountains, I know that I carry the trees, the rocks, the land I grew up on inside me, and it feeds me still.

Share it