Searching For a Sense of Home
(Page 2 of 3)
Looking back now, I see that poem as reflecting a persistent need to claim my children for this place; in fact, the setting of the poem was the McKenzie River in east Lane County, so even then I was trying to claim them for my place rather than the one they would ultimately call their own. But it is also part of a whole body of work that adopts a kind of surface iconography for a place: some of it beautiful and moving and authentic, and some of it—like mine, I fear—serving as a type of prepackaged shorthand for genuine place.
If I was living in the lands of my ancestors, would there be a cellular, or at least inherited, recognition of other markers of place, ones I cannot imagine past the flashy heron and overworked salmon? Although all of these images have their roots in this place, they also represent an anxious iconography, a way both to claim the children and reclaim the landscape in a predictable, inherited, and tactile way.
It has become part of cocktail-party wisdom to blame the spread of Bed Bath & Beyond (beyond what?), Borders (may it rest in peace), and Wal-Mart for the loss of local culture, community spaces, and even regional dialects. And Home Depot strip malls can’t help. But is it possible that the opposite is also true? Could it be that we grasp for familiar cultural markers—received and corporatized as they are—that we warmly invite Bed Bath & Beyond into our communities as a kind of cultural hot water bottle because we no longer live among our ancestors’ bones, because we do not know the high-water mark of the river, because we are not intimates with the creatures among us? Is it possible that in our wanderings and resulting isolation we actually need—or at least crave—recognizable and mass-produced images of home? Is it possible that we are like the ducklings that are imprinted to a backhoe because that’s what was around when they learned to walk?
If so, is the Jeffersonian dream of shared governance based in place dead beyond revival? Do we need to just concede to the Federalists, surrender to the competing forces of the market, and continue nattering on about local salmon and huckleberry jam?
I hope not. But I think it will take both as-yet-unpracticed alertness and tremendous humility to try to re-create a relationship to place, to wherever we find ourselves now. We will have to admit that we don’t know exactly what our place is, that it doesn’t belong to us, and that it will require our finely tuned attention to keep us from falling victim to surface icons. And we may have to use tremendous creativity to notice or make our own, more genuine sense of home.
What I am grappling with here is the distinction between the idea of living in place and the fact of living in it. The question I am asking is not how to conceptualize living here—in my little square of 97214—but how to actually live here. That’s the question my daughters were answering, and that’s the one I often overlook. I like the idea of place, so I am vulnerable to whatever images are romantic or widely reproduced or cheap. I understand what it is to want to feel at home in place and to resort to buying proxies for place, substitutions for genuine close observation and stewardship of home.