Wild Awake

Being in Place: Finding Home


Two places in my life have felt like home: a one-room, off-grid adobe in the heart of northern new Mexico, and a Neolithic granite barn perched on the sea-swept cliffs in west Cornwall. Both remote. Both wild. Both achingly beautiful. Part of my soul still lives in these two places. But the rest of me has gone. The connection broke. I had to move on.

I’m comfortable with moving. I’ve been nomadic for years. I’ve lived in several different countries, in just about every kind of dwelling: tree houses, trailers, track homes, town houses, tents. Ecovillages and hermit huts. Urban, suburban, rural, remote.

The one constant has been change, which I’ve embraced. I adore the adventure of travel, the excitement of being on the move. New places, new faces, the possibility of reinventing myself. I love learning about new cultures. I love expanding my perceptions of the world. I love being a rolling stone.

Yet for all it’s gifts, this restlessness has a terrible cost. I have no real sense of belonging, no long-term knowledge of any particular place. I’m not rooted. No one really knows who I am. I don’t really know who I am.

Wendell Berry (farmer, poet, author, activist) says “if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” He is referring to the intimate knowledge of place that comes from living and working on the same land through the seasons, through good and hard times, through the generations, with the knowledge of the labor and love of your ancestors, who lived and worked the same land before you.

We shape the land, and the land shapes us. We grow from being in place. We are not separate from the land. It forms and informs us. Those who develop a deep relationship with a place over time, tend to accept responsibility for it. They care for the land, as if it were a part of their own lives, because they know that this is true: “what we do to the land, we do to ourselves.”

But what if you have no connection to place? What then? What if your ancestors were dispossessed, displaced and dispersed from their lands? The land of my people has long gone. I don’t even know where their bones are buried. No wonder I’m lost. No wonder I can’t find home.

A year ago I moved to Inverness, in the heart of the Point Reyes National Seashore, in West Marin, Northern California. I felt a kinship with the land, and I knew it to be beautiful, but I never really thought it would be home. Sure, I had friends living here, but no historical ties to the land. No ancestors buried in the soil, no childhood memories of playing in the forests. How could this place be home to me?

But then something changed. Flying back from Seattle, the airplane circled over the Point Reyes peninsula. The land glinted gold and emerald, a precious jewel on a bright blue sea. My heart jumped and a clear thought arose: “I love this place.”

In that moment, I made a conscious decision to be in long-term relationship with this particular land, and all the human and non-human beings that make their home here. I made a commitment to stay put, to stop moving, to be in place. With that decision, my mind went quiet. I felt energized. I felt clear.

Jon Young (tracker, mentor, author, friend) said to me once, that until I made a conscious commitment to stay in one place, until I put a stake in the ground my capacity to deeply connect with the natural world, and to be a cultural creative change agent, would be severely limited. I knew he was right, but until this moment, I wasn’t ready.

I wouldn’t yet call Inverness home. My ancestors aren’t buried in these soils. I’ve only lived here for a year. But if I can learn to honor the land over time, and to strengthen my relations with my neighbors – people, plants, animals, birds, rocks – then my hope is that one day, my children, and my children’s children may come to protect this land as their own, and to know this place as home.

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