Saturday, May 23, 2009

Geography

Today was the kind of day that we Hamsters (Belling-hamsters, which I didn't make up!) live for.  Bright blue sky, warm and sunny.  I'm telling you, there's no better place to live...Now I know that lots of people think their part of the country--the world, even--is the best place.  Years ago, when E was in preschool, she became friends with a little girl whose dad was in the airforce, stationed in the northwest.  I got to know the parents a little over the course of that year, and they could hardly wait to get back to where they'd come from.  I think they were from Kansas.  Maybe Missouri.  They talked about buying property, living where life was better and slower.  I could buy that, of course.  We lived in a city in those years, and I wasn't particularly fond of the bustle myself.  But when they started talking about how they liked the wide open spaces of their home country, the way they could watch the sun all the way across the sky, I probably tipped my head like I was a confused puppy dog.  The place they most loved actually made me claustrobic.  Seriously.

I've traveled to the middle of this country a time or two, driven through the wide plains of Kansas, where grass grows in undulating waves. One summer, with my grandmother, I lay on a bed with a very old black fan rotating about two feet from my face, but the air it moved was so stale I finally ran a cool bath and sank into it for relief.  In the next room, my blind grandmother and her childhood friend (whose name was Fern), laughed and spoke a language only those who'd lived it could understand.  That whole Kansas trip I felt suffocated, farther out of my element than in all those countries I'd visited across the sea.  My mother, who'd spent many years on her grandparents' farm there, had told us to be sure and climb the hill across the road from the farm, because one could see for miles around at the top.  When my sister and I got to the farm, we looked all over for the alleged 'hill'.  Turns out it was nothing more than a slight bump, which took no more than a dozen steps to climb.  We walked up the gentle incline, and took turns pretending we were about to fall off a cliff.  In fact, I think the driveway in front of my current home is steeper than that little mound.  But sure enough, it was the only hill around.

And Beve and I took the kids up to Alberta a couple summers for various things, where the road laid out in front of us, with empty fields on either side, from horizon line to horizon line.  The sky was like a blue curtain hanging all down to earth.  And you know, I had what surely must have been a panic attack driving through that featureless land.  I might be a little crazy (and even more so for admitting it), but it felt claustrophobic to me, like all the air had disappeared in the emptiness of the terrain. And it suddenly hit me what my trouble was.  I like living on the edge of the continent.  I like marine air, and soaring evergreens, and hills so tall no one could mistake them for anything but hills--and even mountains.  Actual mountains.

Yep, this is my place on earth.  My real place.  The rolling hills on the Palouse, where I grew up, I've always called 'the geography of my soul,' and in some sense it's completely true.  It's certainly been the grist for the mill of my so-called creativity.  And the foundation of faith that was planted there has reaped a bounty in my life.  But as far as living, as far as where I want to retire and grow old, well, it's right here among the varigated greens of the many evergreens here, the breathtaking view from our flagstone patio of the bay, the island beyond--this is perhaps the geography of my chronology. 

It's a good thing, though, that we're all drawn to different places.  Otherwise all of us clustered together would tip this planet straight out of its orbit.  We need the balance of our differences--for food, for community, for life.  So, this day, when Beve and I, with the help of two of our kids, planted my Mother's Day flowers in their summer pots, spent the rest of the daylight hours, weeding and moving plants around the garden, I am thankful for the glory of this place, the joy of creation in this particular geography.  And I thank God that all across this world, others are feeling just as glad for their own place, their own geography. 

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