Welcome Back

As I sit here trying to put this post together after the 2+ month hiatus Gina and I took from Living Here and There (well, not from living here and there, but recording our experiences of it), I’ve found that my wheels are requiring gallons of grease and I’m needing to bribe myself with more than a few Netflix breaks in order to get rolling again.

I’m disoriented here at the keyboard and navigating around WordPress seems like wandering through a familiar but patently foreign land. It turns out that not all learned skills are as easy to return to as that bicycle and this particular practice, for me anyway, requires recalibrating and re-tinkering and time. As for sharing my thoughts (and my writing) with an audience of greater than one again…well, let’s just say I’m going to be here editing for awhile tonight.

That said, I’ve missed the company of my friend and the peek into her world over There, that this blog provides. That I got to enjoy a birthday lunch in SoHo with the actual, not virtual, Gina–as well as share a few meals and chats with her and the kids around my kitchen table–was a certain gift. Now, however, so many weeks later, our time together seems like a dream and I’m ready for some tangible, printable contact again.

Before we get started on what’s going on now though, here’s a little recap of what’s been going on Here, on this side of the ocean, for the past many weeks.

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August is my favorite month. Mostly because it was my favorite time of year growing up (my birthday falls during its first week) and while I don’t celebrate my birthday as whole-heartedly as I did when I was younger, Ray and Noah and I managed to do it up small this year and go on a birthday hike and out to dinner and eat cake. We also were able to see friends and family for various meals and cocktails during the beginning part of the month and soak up the still-strong sun and warm nights.

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Noah gussied up for my birthday dinner at Riverview.

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A late lunch that morphed into an early dinner at Michele and Dan’s.

The Hudson Valley is bursting with green in August and though sometimes the nights get chilly, the bounty of the harvest and the still-later-than-wintertime sunsets create an internal heat that keeps me from lamenting the coming fall (too much). In August even the river is balmy–the water temperature can reach upwards of 70 degrees–so Luca spends lots of time swimming and Noah and I spend lots of time chasing him around trying to dry him off.

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August sunset over Storm King Mountain.

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Swimming and stick-throwing.

Of course the cherry on top of my birthday week was Gina and the kids visiting us for a few days. To have them in our house again was so much fun and made me so very grateful for things like airplanes and trains and fossil fuel. The boys took up again like not a minute had passed since they were cavorting around Bologna last fall and, though Gina, Michele and I had to work hard to keep the yarns of our many conversations from becoming one giant, verbal knot of crazy, we managed to swim and hike and lunch and shop and drink a few gallons of wine. It was, to be trite, a divine time.

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Swimming at Michele’s.

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Gina & Leeloo considering the ducks on our hike around Little Stony Point.

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There’s always time for Minecraft (after lunch at Homespun).

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Snuggle pile in front of the TV. (Sometimes the moms get talking in the kitchen and forget that the kids get tired from all of the swimming and the hiking and the Minecraft.)

Even though leave-taking is becoming one of the brightest, no-longer-worrisome stitches in our relationship, saying goodbye to our friends is never easy and this time it especially sucked because our time together was so short-lived. (Here’s counting the days to Christmas in Philly!) Lucky for us, however, we saved our vacation until the end of the summer so we had something to look forward to once the Bouvarez clan had taken flight.

Cape Cod, Massachusettes here we come!

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Driving due east over the Bourne Bridge onto Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is a tiny spit of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Boston. My parents spend a good part of the year there and I’ve been visiting the place for most of my life, so in many ways driving over that bridge feels like coming home.

Our time at the Cape is slow and easy. What with the long days at the beach, long bike rides along the rail trail, trips to Provincetown (one of my favorite places on earth), yummy seafood dinners and plenty of sand and salty air, the Unwinding and Relaxing are sure things. This year, in addition to my parents being with us, all three of my brothers and my sister-in law were there. Noah had a blast swimming and playing with his cousins, and I had the chance to catch up with my beloved family members–all of whom I don’t get to see often enough because they live all over the world–which made this year’s trip extra special. The lot of us crammed into the tiny kitchen of our Cape Cod cottage and talked and laughed and ate and were very, very loud. Just like when we were kids.

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The pilot & co-pilot hunkered down for the five hour drive.

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(Sometimes the co-pilot needs a nap.)

The minute we get to the Cape house we drag everything out of the car, put on our bathing suits and head TO THE BEACH!

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Cousins setting up the court for some kind of sand game involving paddles & balls.

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Noah and cousin Daniel braving the Atlantic with Uncle Dan.

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All set up for a day beneath the dunes.

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Obligatory sand pit photo.

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Clams the boys dug with help from Uncle Dan & Uncle Tom.

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Lobster Roll.

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My brothers and me. Rarely is it that we are all on the same sofa. Most of the time we aren’t all on the same continent.

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Grandma & Papa & the grandkids.

Each year Ray and Noah and I take a day to ourselves and head to Provincetown–a village on the very tip of Cape Cod–and each year, after we’ve had some lunch and a beer or two at Governor Bradford’s and walked the length of Commercial Street, stopping into our favorite shops and bakery, we seek out the real estate listings and try to formulate a plan to move there someday. It truly is one of the most magical places I know–artists and writers roam the beaches for inspiration, tiny piping plovers–an endangered bird that conservation groups rope off miles of shoreline for–roam the dunes for food and mates, and human beings of every color and stripe dress in sequins and glitter and bows and dance in the streets, whooping and hollering and being wholly and fully themselves. There’s a nude beach, a festival week that rivals Mardi Gras and more natural beauty than seems fair for one tiny town.

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View from the end of Provincetown Wharf.

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Noah on the boardwalk.

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Rules of the beach.

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Race Point.

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One last look back before getting in the car.

 

And then September arrived with all of its natter and noise. It’s a month laced with beginnings and endings–as I suppose any month is–but September’s changes seem stern and definitive and cruel. School started for Noah. I got a job. Ray is interviewing again.

The gazebo is empty now. This past Sunday we wiped down the patio furniture and took away the candles and hauled everything into the shed where it sits, packed away for the long, cold season to come.

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First Day of 7th Grade.

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Last gazebo dinner of 2014…unless Stef lets us ring in the new year out here. We could do it with a couple of heat lamps and a case of frizzante, no?

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Empty gazebo.

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Morning full moon over half-bald mountain.

 

I’m trying to stay positive despite this morning that came upon us with no warning about a week ago…

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As I was hiking with the dog the other day, , however, I (sternly) reminded myself to honor all of the beauty that autumn brings. The hills are on fire right now, bursting into a hundred shades of orange and red and gold. The sunsets are still stupefying. October will bring Halloween and Noah’s birthday and longer, darker, more restful nights.

And besides, homework isn’t so bad…

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and neither is reading your favorite book about your favorite holiday to your friend…

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nor September sunsets that look like this…

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The other day there were four bald eagles circling over the river behind of our house. Google will tell you that the meaning in this sighting is that illumination awaits.

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Two of the four eagles I saw circling overhead last week.

I’m looking forward to it.

Hudson River, New York, USA

This summer is turning out to be a ‘stay-at-home’ time for our family here on the western edge of the Atlantic. It’s not that we’re trying to be sedentary, but life’s predicaments, as they sometimes do, have dictated a season of job searches (for me and Ray) and local day camps (for Noah) and we’re trying to make the best of it. Honestly, it’s been a pleasure to stay home, as we’ve never really spent an entire summer here, watching the leaves get greener and the endless parade of storms pass through the valley. Other years we’ve traveled during summertime; looking out and over there for inspiration and delight.

Lingering at the edge of the river is not only proving to be beautiful and serene, but is offering us plenty of opportunities to observe difference and the reshaping of the world that is happening all around us, all the time. Sure, this physical staying in the same place requires discipline and a keen eye when it comes to noticing the world–it’s easy to stop seeing the sunset over the river each night or our resident cardinal’s daily breakfast routine. Attention to what is happening around you is a necessary element of remaining open-minded and not developing tunnel vision about one’s life. It is vital to immerse oneself in difference and to discern variations in the natural world, a practice that is automatic when traveling but less so when you’re staying in one place.

When you’re staying in one place some transformations, typically those that take weeks or months to happen–think springtime or tomatoes ripening on the vine–can be missed or noticed only after a change is so pronounced (the snow is GONE, the tomato is RED) it’s impossible not to see it. In those instances we miss the melting, the subtle shades of pink and that’s a shame. Sometimes, though, changes are abrupt and forceful and are good to notice for just that reason. Here are a few photos taken from roughly the same location over  the last week or so. Variation, indeed.

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Paddling

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First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to Stefan on this, the LAUNCH DAY for his book and music projects and the official introduction of the considered life to the world! I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of witnessing a few moments of its development over the years and I promise you, neither the book nor the album should be missed.

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In other news, summer is here! I think I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but I’m just so doggone happy to be puttering around the house in bare feet with the windows open, the sloshing of boats on the river the soundtrack echoing through our house as the people and animal who live here settle into the rhythm of the season.

A change like this often comes with moments of bewilderment and it was during one of those murky mornings late last week, when Noah and I were bumping into one another in the kitchen and Ray was trying to get out the door to catch a train and Luca was whining because he wanted to go for a walk that I decided we needed to do something different–you know, in an attempt to flow with the slower pace and the looser structure of the day and not, ahem, paddle against it. Noah and I talked about finding a movie to see or going to the mall or, even, hopping on the train with Ray and heading into the city for a museum visit and lunch, but the sky was crystal blue and the breeze was gentle and warm and it wasn’t a day to be inside. So, I made the rare choice to go kayaking. You know, without our resident water expert around to guide us.

It’s not that I don’t ever go out on the river without Ray, but often it’s just easier and, to be honest, more palatable to have him with us. For safety and security reasons and because it’s obviously more fun, but also because he’s good at dragging the kayaks around and warning us about the changing tide and keeping Noah and I, two starry-eyed neophytes, focused on looking out for motor boats and tankers and other detritus that must be avoided whilst splashing about on this giant body of water in a plastic vessel the size of a bathtub.

Noah, ever the adventure seeker, was thrilled and did not miss a beat. Of course we could do it alone! No worries! He wanted to pack lunch. He wanted to find a swimming hole. He wanted to try to take the dog in the boat with us, too.

Luckily, I was able to keep my wits about me and made the executive decision to leave Luca home, but after making Noah promise to help me with the dragging-of-the-boat-down-to-the-beach and the paddling-up-the-river and the paying-attention-to-the-tide, we packed some snacks and a few jugs of water and headed out onto the Hudson.

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Happy.

We were treated to calm waters and beautiful scenery and we had a truly magnificent afternoon. It’s so interesting to visit places you’ve seen a thousand times before, but from an alternate point of view. We are lucky enough to live at the river’s edge and we watch it, awestruck, every single day. Our viewpoint, though, is always from above. We look down at the river and across at the mountains, perspectives that give us a sense of dominion or, at least, of safety over all that water and land. But to see everything looming above us, except the water of course–which itself seemed far more copious and deep once we were floating on top of it–made both Noah and I silent with appreciation. For the day and for one another.

 

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Our gazebo, seen from below.

Our house is perched up on a rock wall and even during the most violent storms (Sandy, Hurricane Irene) we never feel like there is a threat of danger or flooding. Once you’re down on the river, though, that certainty starts to shift. Sure the water in June is warm(ish) and the gentle lapping of the small waves against the boat seems comforting, but you also realize the river’s power and potential peril. When you’re depending on that water to keep you steady and moving, when the mountains form a bowl around you, when you are surrounded by rock walls that seem impossible to climb, you can get to thinking that maybe a storm could come through and send waves in through the back door.

You paddle on. Not afraid, but reverent and still. And curious.

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Our fellow travelers on the river–like these big tankers (we passed four or five) carrying everything from other boats (the one above is loaded down with yachts) to cement and gravel and oil–demand respect as well. While we enjoyed playing in the waves of their wake, we mostly stayed away and admired them from a distance.

Combing the riverfront we were treated to features of the shoreline we don’t usually get to see: driftwood structures built by campers or teenage revelers who find solace (and sometimes trouble) at dusk along the narrow beaches;

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and marooned logs and uprooted tree stumps, battered and smoothed down by water and sand.

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Even our beloved village’s waterfront, a place where we regularly walk the dog and eat ice cream and sit on one of the benches to read or write, seemed unfamiliar and exotic and strange.

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I’ll end today with a quote from The Considered Life:

“Escaping our familiar contexts seems to me one of the better and more tangible reset buttons that life, in its wise wisdom, has seen fit to make us believe was our idea…Such migrations do not necessarily have to mean visa-stamping and language-learning…The foreign-soiled experience can be had anywhere that feels alien to whoever you think you are or home to whoever you want to be…For I know that the crossing of borders and the changes in points of view, literal and metaphorical, supply me with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of what has come to mean so much to me: the quest for quality of life.”

Yes.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Cleaning, Cleansing, Clearing Out (1)

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Green juice for breakfast. This one is made from bok choy, celery, apples, lemon and ginger.

It’s a bit late in the season for spring cleaning but the old cliché claims better late than never, so it is in that spirit that I’m doing some clearing out this week. Early last weekend I started with the closets. Our house is teeny-tiny and so is our furniture so each of three of us who lives here has to do a seasonal switch of our clothing from the storage bins under our beds into dresser drawers down the hall. The boys here aren’t fans of this necessary custom, but I love it. It’s the perfect time to donate those too-tight jeans that I’ve kept rumpled up in the back of the bottom drawer since October, and to sort through Noah’s ever growing collection of graphic t-shirts and get rid of the ones that are stained or too-form-fitting (his very favorite ones I’m collecting in a box in the basement–pretending that one day I will make a quilt or something out of them). I also cleaned out the messy cave-like cupboards under the sink in the kitchen and in the bathroom, throwing away anything that was leaking, sticky or less than half full. (Why do I hold on to almost-used-up bottles of hand soap? Better yet, why don’t I use them up?)

The most significant cleansing I’m doing, though, is of my own sullied and straggly self. My internal world has become a polluted deluge over these past few months. I’ve been crabby and cranky and mean. As I waded ever-deeper into the job-search pool last winter, I watched my anxiety rise to flood levels and the chattering in my head swell to a howling gale. Now that the weather’s warmed and I’ve tried to squeeze myself into shorts and tank tops I’ve realized that my body has gotten softer and squishier, too. So, I decided it was time for some kind of change. A good old American overhaul. A renewal, if you will.

On Sunday I embarked on a seven day raw-food cleanse (basically a week of vegan eating, only raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds), guided by the fine folks at Skybaby Yoga who, for the past three years, have supported my community in a raw-food cleanse–replete with restorative yoga classes, discounts at health food stores, a recipe book and a pop-up shop that serves raw juices, snacks and a positive, healthy vibe. It’s sort of like going on a retreat but without leaving home.

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Soaking raw chick peas and and sunflower seeds for sprouting.

I’m only two days into the thing but there is some news to report. The first day of the cleanse was pretty easy, actually–as new and different things can sometimes be. For breakfast I blended up my almond milk and banana smoothie, I made an avocado and kale salad for lunch and whipped up (raw) cauliflower and curry soup for dinner and felt like a rock star. Sipping ginger tea & lemon water throughout the day was so satisfying that I barely gave a thought to the missed glass of rosé I usually pour around 6pm each evening as I start chopping and preparing stuff for dinner. Monday, however, was a bit more of a challenge. I slept well but woke up with a stuffy nose and sore throat. Some folks say that mild illnesses and symptoms like this are to be expected as one’s body works to rid itself of toxins and other yucky stuff. (There’s also a head cold going around so perhaps the extra mucus is nothing more than that.) Nevertheless the ginger and lemon teas help soothe my throat and I have a perfect excuse to rest and read–two activities that slip off of my to-do list with unfortunate regularity.

Cleanses like this are supposed to clean one’s body, but also clarify one’s mind. They can increase a person’s energy, help to boost your immune system, lower cholesterol and improve metabolism. Cleanses have also been known to clear the way for more acute mental focus, renewed happiness and better clarity of purpose. It’s the these last three components that I’m banking my growling belly on. My job search is stagnate, my poems are still unpublished and something’s gotta give. Here in America we persevere until it does, (right?).

More in a day or two…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth and Sky

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Flying is not my thing. I don’t like it. I use medicinals and breathing techniques and prayers to a god that I don’t even believe in whenever I have to transport myself, somewhat serenly–at least somewhat sanely–from one gate in one city, to another gate, in the next. So, weeks like the last one I had can be rife with worry and fret and consternation (even though I’ve flown dozens of times before).

Four flights in four days. Each one of them spent buckled into a seat on tiny commuter planes–you know, the ones that rock and roll through each melody of wind and weather. The ones that crash sometimes, but never with stories that make the front page of any newspaper in the world.

(I medicated. I breathed. I prayed.)

It is only now, when I’ve made it to the far side of this most recent aerial journey and the memories of flying–of the internal hysteria I subject myself to whenever I’m aloft above broad swaths of salt water and green (green mountains, green water, green sky)–have faded like the pains of childbirth and I am at home next to the river, that I can chide myself for the ridiculous panic I create each time I go up there.

Yesterday I decided it’s time to spend lots of time feeling the earth beneath my feet.

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It was time to plant things.

We plant things every year, but this year we’ve been busy and we’re broke and buying herbs and tomatoes plants that will barely yield enough bounty for a salad come August seems lavish and unrestrained and dumb.

But what better way to reacquaint oneself with the terra firma of my in-flight dreams, than spending some time sifting soil and worms and decomposing leaves between my fingers and toes?

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I encountered lots of creepy-crawlies along the way, too. Similar to the pests that Gina and Leeloo (see her post to my left) found burrowed in their mistaken bounty, I, too, dug upon many strange creatures who live inside the plants–nourished by their wonder–that I often mistake for my sustenance alone.

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I lined up rows of sunflower seeds like tiny planes on a runway, wondering, morbidly, which ones will make it to their final destination and which ones (the only time I think anything will be for me) will perish (in some kind of fiery explosion) along the way.

The thing is that, come fall, even if the seeds mature into plants and onto bright faces of petal and seeds, the squirrels will have their way with them and all that will be left is some dried leaves and twine.

Nonetheless, it’s time to plant.

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Sage. Basil. Rosemary. Oregano. Tiny plants are queued up for the gopher who lives in our yard and who shimmies up to the table to feast on a leaf or twelve each morning. We’re trying to figure out how to share with him.

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I don’t even like peppers, which is an interesting aside, but I planted a bunch of hot ones for Ray. They are small now but come morning, you won’t  believe your eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Home is the nicest word there is.”

(Laura Ingalls Wilder)

 

Home. Is it a building? A town? A state of mind?

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Little House on the Prairie, or the house I grew up in. (Photo credit: my fantastical sister-in-law, Lara.)

I grew up in a house that my father built on the edge of a dying leather mill town in rural upstate New York. It is the only house I remember living in as a child, though I know that for a short time when I was very young, my family lived in an apartment building a few blocks away. I’ve always considered that particular house my ‘home’—the semantics of which drive my husband crazy when I refer to it as such. Like when I tell our son: ‘We’re going home for Thanksgiving’. “We’re going to your parents’ house,” he specifies, not a little exasperated.

I understand his annoyance. He wants me to think of our house as ‘home’—in the whole biblical sense of leaving our parents and joining our betrothed—which I do, too. At the end of a weekend with my parents, as my mother slips food for the return journey into my bag, I tell her: I’ll call you when I get home, and Cold Spring is what I mean. But there is a difference. Despite the fact that I haven’t lived in the place for two decades, I feel a distinct intimacy to the land, to the sky, to the very air that surrounds my home town when our car crests the hill on Route 29 and carries us into it.

When I am home—my old home, my parents home…whatever—I find that I am able to access a part of myself that is dormant most other times. It could simply be the acclimatization to country life that shakes things loose, but I suspect the transformation has to do with something more resolute than geography. The territory I roamed when I was young feels alive to me. Pungent mosses grow thick on the rocks and rotting logs, and in summertime the smell of manure from the horse farm up the road billows into the yard, riding deep on the hot, arid wind. My brother and I used to get lost for hours amidst the neck-high bulrush and sweet grasses that border the pond at the edge of the field. We’d sit for awhile amid the magic and then stuff our pockets with riches—tiny purple wildflowers, bits of fool’s gold, glossy pieces of shale—and then race back home where we’d ceremoniously lay everything out on the kitchen table. By the time we presented the trove to our mother, the leaves would be wilted and the rocks dry and no longer lustrous, but we didn’t care.

My parents have lived in the same place forever and, like hangers-on in many small towns, speak of the ‘old days’ with the tired nostalgia of surrender as they watch WalMart engulf acres of farmland that, during their childhoods, yielded corn and soybeans and potatoes. They sigh and vote ‘yes’ to allow zoning for a superstore and another distribution center, the low-wage jobs a necessary solution to the rising rate of unemployment, but a fix that will surely maintain the cycle of sadness and poverty that has caught hold there like a virus.

Sometimes after dinner my father drinks bourbon and tells us, again, about the spring when the city park was built—a garden and a band shell constructed on a block of land next to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Main Street. A shoe store and a bakery were razed to make way for wooden benches and fertilized grass and, once the wrecking balls and tractors were done, the topography, and his perception of the place, had changed forever. Improvement was how the mayor touted it. Inevitable development is what my father says. When he crosses the street to go to the bank, he still shivers in remembered shadows of buildings long gone.

I feel haunted in that town, too, despite the comfort I feel in being back home again. I understand the misery of the place, yet I also see the rolling foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in the distance. I know that, just a few miles down Route 30, majestic peaks and clean air fill the sky, and that once you get out far enough, the black smoke that seeps from chimneys in town—even in the hottest weeks of July—filters away and disappears.

Maybe I’m attached to those fields and streams because they hold the record of my darkest hours. Nights in high school when my father found me somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, his disapproval heavy on the car ride home; awkward years of glasses and legwarmers and big, sprayed hair, clumsy friendships, fights with my mother, and the days when I prayed to be anywhere in the world but stuck there, in that, with all of them.

Still, the place is my home. Standing at the doorway to middle age I find myself questioning who I am (and why I am on this planet) with alarming regularity. As I seek explanations to those and other more esoteric concerns, I hunt around in the past for answers, soliciting people who knew me when I was a kid, searching the dusty corners of the place where the seeds of who I would become were planted and tended to. That town, that house…they will always be the place; my place. The geographic nucleus of the sense of self I carry with me no matter where I lay my head, no matter how many years I am away from it, no matter how lost I become.