Saturday, February 28, 2009
Where Do You Belong?
Last night a bunch of my girlfriends threw me a surprise party and I got to spend an evening with eight women who I love and who inspire me. I met some of these women four years ago when I was new to Terrace and floundering with the enormity of leaving my good friends and my country behind to start a new life in Canada. Those were some ugly times, and I'm afraid that these women saw me at my whiniest worst. Nothing was good enough for me about Terrace - not the town, the resources, the stores or the people. I was downright miserable and I finally had to face something about myself:
I hate change.
I take a long time to adjust to new circumstances. I am tentative about exploring. I hold back from new people and I don't warm up to them for a long time. I compare new circumstances to old ones unfavorably until I've had awhile to get used to them. I resist new things.
It takes me four to five years to feel "at home" in a new place, and I know I'm getting there when I realize that I've created a personal landscape around the area in which I live. This personal landscape includes the homes where my friends live, the library, the grocery stores I frequent, "my" gas station and the roads I prefer to walk on to get around town.
My personal landscape also includes natural objects: the trail behind my house that I've walked on with the kids so many times, the faces carved into the trees on Ferry island, the sheer rock cliffs of Thornhill mountain that kept me company through my living room window the first lonely winter I lived here.
It includes the two standing stones my friend Eberle pointed out, the owl and the eagle that live near my house, the black berry bushes on the Howe Creek trail, and the giant trees by Lakelse Lake whose roots astound me each time I visit them.
When I visited Santa Cruz last week I visited my old personal landscape. I went to Capitola beach and got Thai food to eat on a bench by the sea-wall. I visited my favorite stores and my favorite friends' houses. I saw Iris' asparagus bed and walked the loop trail through the giant redwoods at Henry Cowell.
And I tried to visit my tree - the most magical, wonderful tree in all of Santa Cruz county - but it was gone.
The huge, live oak tree used to stand in Arana Gulch. It grew at a 45 degree angle out of the ground and you could scramble up its humongous trunk and lie in its branches without any worry of falling out. Its limbs were like umbrella spokes curving down to touch the ground all around you. It had a niche in its trunk a few feet off the ground were people left offerings and bits of burnt prayers. I took Mary with me to go find it and we circled the meadow a couple of times before I allowed myself to look at the trees lying along the ground.
I found my favorite tree in a crumpled heap, looking like it had simply shattered. I wasn't sure if I was right, so I asked a couple walking past: "Do you come here a lot? Are you familiar with this tree?"
"Yes," the woman said. "We call it the Grandfather Tree."
"Did it used to have a niche in its trunk?"
It had to be the one.
"When did it fall down?" I asked.
"Honey - when did your father pass away?" the woman called out to her husband. She turned back to me. "The tree fell down right after my father-in-law died."
The man thought back. "2004," he said.
Right after I left Santa Cruz. I took pictures of the tree and Mary and I walked some more. I kept on waiting to feel sad. Heck, I thought I would feel devastated. I loved that tree and I have a lot of special memories around it.
Instead, I was surprised to find I felt grateful. That tree could have died any time. I might never have known it or climbed around in it at all. I might not have the memories I have. But I got to know it - I got to be there when it was alive. The landscape has changed, but my landscape hasn't.
I realize now that my personal landscape doesn't change over time, no matter how often I move; it just gets added to. It just gets richer.