Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If landscape and climate, culture and local vernacular, interact with us in our formative years to shape our spiritual and mental dispositions toward a local, I am, by these, influences, a southwesterner. And by these same influences, I am not a Midwesterner. Through a long string of decisions and circumstances, that are too convoluted to go into here, it is in the Midwest that I now reside. The southwest is where I grew up and where I feel at home. My eyes are comfortable with the vistas there, my body and soul are at ease in the terrain. I am not, of course, native to the southwest. I wasn’t even born there. I got there at about four years of age via Alaska, (birth place) and Los Angeles. (two through four). But Albuquerque is where I became conscious of my extra-domestic environment. As long as I have spent in Missouri (well over 15 years with college, and now residence here) I am no closer to feeling at home than I was initially. There are some advantages to this, It still feels different and can be interesting, but there is no escape from the “stranger in a strange land” overlay to my existence. Functionally, these things don’t matter much. I am able to buy my Post Tosties and milk at a store in Kansas City just as I can under the Kachina skies of New Mexico. My connections to the southwest were not made of human relationships. So as far as my own community goes, I am just as community minimal here as anywhere else. For me the experience of land and place are visceral and subtly. I feel them and am conscious of it all the time. But the effects are turned over and spun around in a place some where well with in my private psyche. I remember in New Mexico I use to wonder how much more powerful a connection to the land and culture I would have if I was a native to a place. If I had history and relations and roots in the soil. Albuquerque is largely a town of suburbs these days. With the exception of the valley area, where the river is, the rest of the place is thin crusted. Most homes there, when I was growing up, were slab houses. This meant they had shallow footings and four inch slabs of cement for a floor. Not much depth. One of the prominent forms of vegetation there is the tumble weed. This plant grows into a big round shape with very insubstantial roots. It dries up, breaks off at the base and rolls away with the wind. These characteristics of shallow connectedness and temporariness in Albuquerque are very much metaphors of the life I experienced there. The job that brought my dad there was strictly intellectual based. It had no connection to the land or the history or the culture. The marriage between my parents dried up and blew away like a hundred relationships that rolled along and passed away in the wind. We all, My little broken nuclear family, moved away (one of us is back there now). Still, something got into me there. An ease with open landscapes. An affinity for windswept stone and hundred mile lines of sight. The dryness and barren climate. Solitude. The space between the vegetation on the ground. The colors of the dirt and the lizards. The dust in the air, the fire in the sky at sunset. These things took hold in me. The smells, the faces, the sage and the slopes. Missouri is an invert of the southwest in so many ways. A strange place with jungle vegetation and slow murky waters. People who grow up here are influenced and shaped by very different aesthetics. Have different comfort zones. See a different beauty. There seems no limit to loam and mud. Life here is over abundant and perpetually moist. These woods are foreboding and hostile and threaten to entangle us as we sleep. The ghosts seem to peer out at me from the dark thickets. This place spooks me. I prefer my ghost blowing by where we both have lots of room to haunt.


John Hayes said...

Beautifully written, & a topic I think a lot about. In my case, I feel most at home in the west, tho I grew up in Vermont & also spent several years in Virginia. Although I'm a native Vermonter & lived there for over 20 years, I don't feel the call of those enclosed spaces as I do the feel of either the "big sky" country or the Pacific Coast.

Francis Scudellari said...

I'm having a very similar bout of restlessness after almost thirty years in Chicago. I grew up in a densely forested part of southern MD (long since developed) and on two recent trips back to the east coast have felt an old attachment to place calling me. We'll see if I actually pick up and move.

John Franks IV said...


Well Simple Solution!

We Miss You Here. So,

Come Home To New Mexico!

Home of the Plague & Land of the Flea!

Where the watermelon skies and mountains are abundant, The air is cleaner, and the vistas are never dull....