As a kid, I used to think that I would die if I had to live in a city. People everywhere, and hiding spaces made of concrete, or boards, and trees delegated to spots here and there. For all the happy Sesame Street bits set in the city neighborhood, I found myself in the ones looking at ponies, or chickens.
I lived in an apartment for much of my childhood, with woods all around. Not epic woods, but more than enough for a feral child. Sometimes I made hiding spots out of fallen branches and leaves. Sometimes I found them ready made, like the space beneath the roots of a decayed tree. I traveled through the swamp, leaping from tussock to tussock, and pretended to be a gymnast on a balance beam made of another fallen tree. I brewed potions out of dead flowers in the fall, and tried eating grass (several times) while playing horse. Much of the time I was alone, because homeschool kids were a rarity in the seventies.
Those places are the soil and water that are always beneath my feet, wherever I am in the world. Most days, that’s fairly close to where I started. I’ve been either a homebody, or lucky, depending on how you look at it. I haven’t had to leave to find the things I need, haven’t been forced away. I’ve had time to hear a thousand different footfalls in the autumn leaves of the same trees, hear the songs of returning birds year after year.
All of that comes with it’s own sadness. By standing in one place, I can see the changes in the land, the ones carved into it by humans. We cannot pretend these losses away.
I’ve been surrounded by bluebirds this fall, every flash of color as warming as a stray ray of sunlight. Last week I saw landlocked salmon traveling upstream to spawn. I’ve never seen them before, only heard of them, and I could have sat and watched them all day. Others had found them as well–an otter, perhaps–and left signs of their feast on the shore. I felt tremendous gratitude at being allowed to view their trek. It was as if someone had whispered psst and shown me a tiny hidden door, through which I could peer into a place I’d known only through dreams.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is necessary for people to love a place enough to make a stand for it. It doesn’t matter the place, does it? A thousand acres, a stream you can step across, a community garden. A window box six stories up, a bit of scrub in a vacant lot.
What soil do you carry with you when you walk across the world? What places are you willing to fight for?