In the crazy pace of my working life, I rarely think about home. It’s a box somewhere in my head, shut and locked so it doesn’t hurt me. So I don’t cry.
My life in the city is nothing like home. It may as well be another planet in its neon freneticism, its urgent, un-thinking toil. I work, I eat, I sleep and I work. Each day, ad nauseum. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad life and it’s the one I’ve chosen - but I'm also removed from it. Displaced. Put simply, it’s not home.
It’s not the pull on my heart, or the land my bones were grown in. Not the endless sky I ran under as a child. Not the whispered secrets of the prairie grasses near the creek. The wild glare of the sun in the morning and the length of the shadows on the sidewalks at dusk.
Lately though, I’ve been thinking about home more often. In fact, it’s been haunting me.
I’ve been woken in the middle of the night by the keening wind I remember rotating the windmills on my father’s land. When I’ve risen early in the morning, the smell of the red clay soil after rain is strong on my counterpane.
In the flower box outside my kitchen window, a desert rose is blooming. It shouldn’t be growing here, under the sulky weight of a New York winter sky. My homeland is reaching out to call me back and this morning, when I woke, I turned over to find stony, red dirt on my pillow.
So I follow ghost roads home. Down zigzag paths and blind corners to reach what made me leave. I travel along streets like stage sets, with buildings too fragile to keep the vast country out. It’s early fall, but underneath my feet, the leaves are already skittering crisp. I say hello to no one, but in the houses along Main Street, I see shapes in the windows that remind me of people I used to know.
I pass the spectres of signs; rust flaking. clinging on to what they once displayed. On the sides of stores, words in white paint are proclamations and warnings.
Out on the edge of town, I reach the house. It looks defeated and broken, just as I remember it. The lowing of the cattle is mournful soft. I recall the tangle of elder and poison ivy over the roof, the stalwart brick chimney. I acknowledge the running cracks on the walls, like cobwebs or wrinkled skin.
She’ll be there where I left her, by the wood store. In the field of cow parsley, deep in the earth. More at home than I am.
On that night, the trees bent towards the hole that I dug and their branches were like hands clasped in sorrow. In the moonlight, the sweep of the land was so vast, I could hardly breathe and the water from the old pump never tasted sweeter.
And we forgive ourselves and we create our structures and artifice. Roads vanish and we forget the tunes of the songs we no longer hear.
But trees have long memories and the land holds me to account.