August Schield: What is Home?

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At a recent class deep in the Big Snowy Mountains I was asked, “What does it mean to be home?”

This is a hard question for me to grasp. I could give you a specific answer stating that I grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Yet as soon as I came to that quick conclusion, I was overcome with confusion: Was that really home? In a great sense, yes, because it is where I grew up and that place is deeply rooted in me. But I can no longer call it home. On this course, I have realized that everyone has their own unique background and upbringing. Through the process of identifying Self, one also identifies what it is to truly be home. Gary Snyder states in The Place, the Regions, and the Commons that all of us “carry a picture” of the environment we grew up in as the building blocks of a sense of place. He further states, “Our place is part of what we are. Yet a place has a kind of fluidity: – It passes through space and time,” and concludes by stating that home is literally based within a Bioregion as the “hearth,” or a home base at which one’s culture and community is centered. I couldn’t agree more except of one aspect: The Hearth of an individual is just as fluid as space and time, and for me, (being quite nomadic lately) it is important for me to affiliate home with my current culture to stay grounded.

Home, as Snyder states, originates with an image. One that is archetypal and forever translucent in my mind. It is the place where the idea of home originated within me, and later blossomed in this strong gravitational force of wanderlust that to this day continues to draw my mind west towards the vertigo of exposed peaks, the mysteriousness held only at the top of the tallest pine. Allow me to share this image with you: my memory originates in the great bioregion of the Pacific Northwest, on a rainy day of course. The thickness of the temperate rainforest is just a quick red rain boot sprint away from my back porch and I am eager to take cover under a tall juniper tree with my father. My frantic sprint comes to an almost immediate halt as I lock eyes with the branches high above towards the tip of a large Douglas fir. Its seems to look down at me as if it is curious about what it might be like to be as tall as a bushel of rustling ferns. In contrast, I wonder what the forest floor would look like from the thick bench-like branch high above, carpeted in a shag-like vibrant green moss. I hear my father call to me, so quickly I scurry to join him kneeling on the moist red earth beneath the juniper. He has on his face an ear to ear smile that seems to hold all the secrets to happiness; in his hand he uncovers a few juniper berries. “Is this a magical berry tree?” I squeak. He laughs as I sit down near the trunk with a low branch clasped in my hand, he watches me cautiously so I don’t actually eat any. We both came to this tree often, and almost always during a rainy day to sit in a nice dry place to take in the density of ferns and thick Douglas fir bark. I would imagine about how far this forest would stretch, and all the adventures I could would someday have, roaming from tree to tree, learning about the secrets they had to tell me. At the ambitious age of three years old, the tall juniper and surrounding temperate rain forest was home to me, but it is no more than a set of archetypal images to me, now acting as forceful sense of nomadism.

Place has become the most fluid aspect of home, where the feeling of home itself is when I feel welcomed and comfortable within a culture. One of six ways Jim Dodge describes a Bioregion, (something I affiliate “home” with) is “Cultural/phenomenological: you are what you think you are, your turf is what you think it is, individually and collectively.” This hearth is based in the culture embodied within the amazing town of Bozeman, MT. It has been a little over a month since I was last there, but when our WRFI caravan drove the great valley between the Bridger and Crazy Mountain ranges the other day, I could feel the presence of home, and could see its spirit blowing viciously atop the freshly snow caked peaks of the Bridger range. Excitement took over me as I began to explain to my instructor, Dave, about the greatness of the high peaks and the chutes I have skied with my friends. It would take a dense novel to explain all the amazing experiences I have shared with my culturally affiliated “homies” of Bozeman. However, like an archetypal memory, the cultural identity I have with Bozeman is translucent, light as thin air, I cannot physically touch it. Bozeman is my hearth. A place I have frequently left, but always felt its rich culture pull me back, like the flame flicking in a hearth, I am drawn to its warmth.

I will return soon, but for how long? With age I have come to realize that this hearth I share with all these wonderful people will one day become as fluid as space and time as Snyder states. It is inevitable, that I will one day migrate again, just as I have the same feeling for all my friends that I share this cultural connection with. This fluidity is Inevitable. I enjoy being nomadic; I have learned so much about myself and other cultures within the past five months. I identify home with culture, and for the past month, that sense of place has been grounded with my ever enlightening classmates and instructors of the Wild Rockies Field Institute. It is important to stay present in the culture you are currently affiliated with as to get the most out of the wonderful time and place we all share. I share my home with these people, our adventures, and all of our distracted, goofy antics. Home is where the hearth always burns.

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