I live in the city. Portland, Oregon, to be exact. But I've also lived in other cities. The East Bay of San Francisco. Los Angeles. Oklahoma City. Columbus, Ohio. I have lived in these places, but I have never been of or from these places. I have never belonged. One doesn't belong to a city...one just passes through. Some cities feel more accommodating than others, it is true...and you may even feel a bond to them while you live there. I felt a bond to the East Bay while I was growing up there...but perhaps that's just because of my age then. I was still not yet 12 years old. And I needed to feel a connection to a place.
And so I formed one. And then my family moved again. To Southern California. Seems I've been transplanted all my life. Remember the movie "The Professional", with Jean Reno and a quite young Natalie Portman? I am the potted plant that Jean Reno carries with him from room to room. I survive wherever I am, but I have always wanted to sink my roots down into a more permanent location.
The only place that has ever felt like home to me is the place that I left at the age of 6. Southern Ohio. Moving every 2 or 3 years growing up tends to lend a certain impermanence to wherever you happen to be. And, as I look back upon my life...I'm 58 years old now...impermanence sums up my attitude towards "place" quite succinctly. Wherever I have been, in my adulthood, I have felt as though I were "just passing through."
It leaves me feeling hollow, and I can't quite explain why. Am I an anachronism? I Luddite? A malcontent along the highway to modernism? Why can't I adapt to, and embrace, the urban milieu in which I find myself? Be it now, or 5 years ago, or 15 years ago? Why can I never feel connected to the place in which I find myself? What does it mean to feel connected?
I feel like a rootbound plant. You could pull me up out of my pot/rooting medium with little effort, and transplant me anywhere. I will adapt. My roots will stretch out a bit...but they will never sink in. Cause you never know when the next move might happen. Or where it will take you. I have lived my life this way since I was 6 years old.
I don't want to be the potted plant in "The Professional." I want to be truly rooted. At home. Comfortable in my environment. I want to recognize it, and feel a connection to it. I want to feel its gravity and its history. I want to feel like I have been here, and I am here, and this is where I belong.
And it occurs to me that...well, not many others feel this way. That's alright. But am I alone in feeling this way? Am I crazy for thinking like this? Has that boat left the dock way, way long ago? Why do I feel so unconnected, after so many years, and so many addresses?
Is it me? Or is it place?
If I could move back to my home town, and make a living, I would do so in a heart beat. Sure...there are no good restaurants. The two grocery stores are Walmart and something else, and neither offer the kinds of produce I have become accustomed to. There is some poverty there, to be exact...you'd have to be blind not to see it. But after living in the Big City for 40 years...I also know that there is just as much poverty here, and you don't have to be blind to not see it. You just have to live in the right zipcode.
I live in a good city. A progressive city. With good restaurants. Clean air. An environmental ethic. Mountains in the vista, and a coast just 1 1/2 hours away by car.
(not that you can actually swim in the ocean here...unless you area polar bear..it's a beach, but the water is fricken cold,) I live in a great city, and I realize that.
But I don't feel the glue. I don't feel the gravity. I don't feel the connection to this great place that I do to a much less great place that I just happened to be born in. Whenever I have travelled "home" over the years, be it by car or by plane (and even by plane requires a car rental), I have rolled down the windows as I enter the county line of my hometown.
It's usually spring or summer. I can smell the place. It smells like cut hay. Freshly plowed earth. Leaves. There are cicadas in the distance. A farm stand selling sweet corn and half runner beans. The best beans you've ever eaten. There's a road off the main highway that I can turn off onto and it quickly turns to gravel, but it takes me by the place where my grandparents used to live. The house is still there, although other people live in it. My grandmother helped build it back when it was built. I know where the spring is, and I have hunted squirrels in the surrounding woods.
I know this place...this town...this county even, like the back of my hand. Even to this day. I know the back roads, and I know all the other roads. I know its flaws, and I know its good points.
I don't know Portland that well...and that is my fault. It's not Los Angeles...it's a city on a much smaller scale. I know parts of it, and I like living here. Except after 2 months of steady rain.
But I will never be from Portland" as long as I live.
I feel the tug of place...and I feel it more so now, at the age of 58, than I did 20 years ago.
Why does a place I have never really lived in since I was 6 years old, even though I have revisited it quite often over the years, hold such a pull upon my soul? Why do I consider "Home" a place I haven't lived in for 50 years?
What is home?
And can you ever go back?
Where do you call home? And why?