Posted on May 17th, 2013
I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me. – Woody Guthrie
I grew up in a small New England town, in the same house all my life, so I always thought I had a good sense of what makes a place a home. Apart from the relative seasonal changes of spring to winter, the scenery didn’t change much and there was a comfort in that. Until one day, in the farmhouse bathroom of a woman I hardly knew, I went to wash my hands and I spotted her soap. It was large and yellow and covered in dirt. That unapologetic bar of soap was the cleanest, most honest thing I had ever seen. And since that moment, my whole adult life turned into an exploration into what makes a home.
Great energy has been spent traveling from place to place trying to find just the spot to set down roots. Fresh out of college I moved into a housing collective full of musicians, on a swamp with something of a sculpture park in the backyard made by an artist friend. When the house literally began to sink, I headed to the city with my new partner and baby where we found a small, bright apartment in a bad part of town. It was the first place of our own and we adored the pool-colored, sunshiny kitchen and soapstone sink. I grew herbs, tended a rose bush. When the crackhead who lived upstairs shuffled up to our door at 2am trying to sell us his beanbag chair (it with a rip, he with a bloody nose) and the pipes burst and grey water decanted three stories down into our bedroom, we headed to the suburbs where we settled into a lovely yellow house with a backyard and a lake view. We chopped wood, built raised beds. And when the house went on the market and we realized we couldn’t afford to heat the place any longer, we headed to the center of a small town and found a one bedroom apartment on the town green and across from the library. We slept in a single room and spent a glorious amount of time outdoors, teaching our daughter how to ride a bike and sipping IPAs and sangria on the lawn. My musician husband began working on a farm and our lives became filled with mustard greens and muddy boots. I started a potted garden in the windows, bought a worm bin. When the space of one bedroom for two adults and a toddler became increasingly cramped, we figured out our budget and happily moved into a two bedroom apartment within walking distance to the school our daughter would be attending.
This apartment has been our home now for three years. No matter the ceiling fan in the hallway is eye level and dangerous when turned on. No matter the gentle slope of the roof causes an inability to stand comfortably upright in the shower. No matter the bedroom does not have a closet and the stove is electric and not gas. Within those walls we have created a comfortable and greatly satisfying space where we truly feel at ease. And yet… I still feel a sense of hunger, a sense that something is missing.
I had been so busy trying to create a home that I hadn’t stopped to realize our happiness didn’t come from within any walls; it came from the swamp, from the rose bush, from the raised beds and potted vegetables.
Late at night I search the depths of online real estate archives to find the perfect spot, and find that I am drawn more to the land than the home that sits upon it. That three-room cabin with a half bath, no plumbing and no electricity? On 25+ acres that seems to foot the bill. A neglected home on 15 acres with a mold problem and destroyed foundation? Yes, please. I thrive on descriptions like “great for the right person, needs lots of loving TLC.” Nonetheless, it remains out of reach, though we have found a slice of compromise in 10,000 square feet of field on a property that is not our own. Property situated on a lot with a home that will inevitably be sold (not to us) in a few short years, our field along with it.
Funny how one can feel a sense of ownership over something that is not technically theirs, but yes, that is our field. Land is like that. After two years of tilling tall grass, fighting pests and poison ivy, and praying for cotyledons to survive in the nutrient deficient dust, our field is slowing beginning to resemble a garden. Sundays are work days and we’re there turning the compost and watering rows, paying our six-year-old daughter in quarters to haul rocks (or equally to sit quietly in the shade). As time allows I will go there alone after a full day of work and stand, pitchfork in hand, at the roots we have set down. On land that has yet to viably produce, on a property I do not own, 25 minutes away from where I live, I feel like I am home. And when the dirt turns to rich soil and the seeds we have sown blossom and another family moves in, I will give up this land freely with the hope that the space continues to thrive, with the understanding our work may again return to dust. I will know the taproot remains deep and we will take that with us wherever we go. Building and breathing with one’s hands in the dirt, with the wood, with the rock is to foster nourishment that can only be found with your feet firmly planted wherever you may be.
There will never be a structure that will make me feel at home. There is only land and a clean, dirty bar of soap.