by Luanne Armstrong
This piece was originally published in Home! A Bioregional Reader, edited by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright, New Society Publishers, copyright 1990.
Whenever I think I might be in danger of becoming learned and even wise, I go home. When I am lost, homesick, depressed, tired, burned out, elated, having mystic visions, wanting to share my joy, I go home. I have been doing it for years now. Most of the time I’ve lived there. Occasionally, I work in other places, other cultures, knowing that the time will come when it will call me, and, as inexorably as a kite heading for the earth, I will go there. When I am living there, going home means going outside, to the lake, the mountains, my favourite hill where I watch the ospreys play wind games. When I am away, it means driving every spare weekend to catch a few days there.
None of this is metaphorical. Home is where I was born, where I grew up, where I have lived most of my life. Wherever else I live, what I continue to refer to as home is this place; not just an owned place, but a wholly lived-in place. I have tried, a few times, and rather naively, to explain the depth of this tie to other people. They look at me puzzled; one friend said, “it’s your bottom line, like religion.”
Well, sort of. But all my explanations end up sounding like the sentimental brand of nature-loving mush that I try to avoid. Yet there should be a place for it—a description for what has been and still is the most central, deepest and longest relationship of my life….
And I lived, explored, grew there. Sliding down gravel slopes on the neighbor’s half-wild horses; swimming out into the lake, all four of us, my brothers and sister, leaving the tame town kids behind on the beach; running over the driftwood in the half-frozen bay in the spring, daring each other, daring myself, to climb rocks and cliffs I was only half sure I could manage; becoming surefooted without noticing it, and sure of myself, picking up knowledge along the way, of animals, and plants, and fire, and wood, and hay and fruit and gardening. Taking chances. All of us—my brothers, my sister and I—inveterate risk-takers, in different ways: one a tree-faller; one a horse-trainer; one, for lack of a better label, a raging ecofeminist peacenik; one a social worker and new father at 43.
We never asked permission. We took horrendous and what probably looked like terrifying chances, but always with the feeling that we would be okay. We drove tractors at six and got rifles at ten; I got my first horse at nine, a half-broken three year-old mare. We had a perfectly ordinary, if somewhat isolated, country upbringing. Except for high school which was, for all of us, hideous. But that’s another story….
As for my “relationship” with that place—I don’t know what else to call it, though it sounds pretentious—I have stood on the mountain and said, “I love you,” as I would say to an utterly beloved person, and not felt foolish. This “relationship” has, in some way, determined all of my major life decisions. When I could have stayed in university, I came home instead. And whenever I came back, battered, bruised and exhausted—from a marriage, from school, from surviving in a world I didn’t understand—it healed me, whether it took six months or six years, and let me go again.
I know it intimately, this place, as I could know a lover’s body, each curve and bump, each joining and parting, each scar and nick and mole. Some parts I know better than others: the farm, the center, the place which is absolutely home.
It occurred to me the other night as I looked out the windows of my rented house in a borrowed city, that it is harder to see a place when you don’t have a relationship with it. It’s like looking at a crowd of strangers among whom may be eventual friends. But such faces are only revealed overtime.
I am created by my home, not as a mother might have created me, but as a teacher, a grandmother, an elder. I was shaped, each day, by living in It, by standing still in it, by learning it. It has made me a connoisseur of color, light, texture, taste, feel, all of it coming in, as real as making love, only this—this has never palled, never bored me, never lessened.
I have sat patiently through conversations in which “the land” gets mentioned in hushed and reverent tones, trying not to say anything. When I live there, my reverence is close and unable to be spoken. It’s what I live within: like air, invisible, but necessary. As I wrote in a poem once: “When I leave, it allows me, when I return, it ignores me as water ignores rain.”
Excerpted from “Home,” The New Catalyst No.15, Fall 1989.
Luanne Armstrong (b. 1949) grew up on the shores of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia and still lives on an organic farm in the area. She has written 25 books and co-written and edited many others, and she has taught creative writing at several colleges. She’s participated in a number of different groups devoted to peace, feminism, and environmentalism.