In a few days I’ll begin my second field season – and this time, the job takes me much further away then I’ve ever been before. What began as an affection for backpacking during my free time bled into a curiosity of what jobs outdoors would be like and is quickly becoming (what I believe to be) a central part to my sense of “home”.
As I’m approaching this next chapter’s start date, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “home”, which leads me now to a little shameless plugging for a creative friend of mine.
This friend does everything with intention – in work, outside of work, and in his creative endeavors. He once said that he “aspires to inspire” and boy does he do that a thousand times over, in ways that he doesn’t even realize. All he is and all he does points back to the Creator of all, and for that (and many other things) I look up to him a great deal. I also like to brag about him, since he’ll never brag about himself.
This same friend (among many other things) makes unique pins and patches. I like them all, but one especially encapsulates a lot of personal significance to me in life at the moment. It carries layers of meaning he may or may not have expected such a thing to have. It is a camping tent with hiking-booted legs and binocular eyes that says “home sweet home.”
Here it is:
When I saw it the first time, I was almost crippled with emotion. Some of you might find that ridiculous, to be moved so much by so small a thing – but it is no small thing to me. Lately, life as it’s been has carried a lot more emotional weight. This little phrase “home sweet home” superimposed on a tent-on-the-move hit me at my core because of how my sense of home as been shifting so much of late.
I have found such a sense of home by being out in the woods and among mountain landscapes. Working a full summer outdoors solidified what I had expected from the longings I felt each time my yearly backpacking trip drew to a close – it felt painful to leave the woods, it felt like the beginning of a homesickness that I could not fully shake off until the next year’s trip arrived, and I went into the forest once again.
Another friend of mine asked me recently what about forests and mountains makes me feel “at home” and I had an incredibly difficult time articulating it. I still haven’t done so with any degree of satisfaction, but here is the convoluted mess of meaning of “why” the woods feel like home:
- In such landscapes I feel able to best connect with God. Not that I can’t hear from Him elsewhere of course, but His sermons and life metaphors seem to pour out in abundance to me when I dwell among intricate-yet-simple mountain landscapes, hike on tree-covered switchbacks, and devour the symphony of sounds, sights and smells of the forest. I feel better able to sincerely give praise, to almost not be able to escape from a thankful state of mind. To be outdoors like this feels like the most authentic House of God that I’ve ever known.
The groves were God’s first temple.
-William Cullen Bryant
- In such landscapes I can hear my own voice better. I find so many things to write about, find that I come to know myself better, what my own heart wants and needs to breathe each time I spend in a forest. There is a silence and stillness found among trees and mountains that allows me to hear myself better, see my own reflection better, so I can become more intentional with the person I am to others. I find that I long to bring others along for the experience, both literally as trail companions and vicariously as readers of that which I try to articulate in words after the fact. In the woods I truly cannot be without a journal, because words pour out in a way that would be painful to try to dam up.
- In such landscapes I get the most enduring experience of pure contentment. There are fewer distraction, which brings a resident sense of calm. I realize when I am there how exhausted I am by how I over-complicate and busy-up my life. Time means something less if anything at all, and I am able to simply be and not need to be much of anything else. The forest speaks my language of beauty, and I am constantly enveloped in a sense of awe – left breathless, left speechless – and that is some good medicine most of us forget is out there, ever available for us to grasp. This allows me to slow down and feel no need to be anything faster than slow. It is hard for me to do that elsewhere. In such a space I feel that I need and even want less, and also that God has already given me more than I could ever hope for.
- In such landscapes I am able to be an eternal student. I’m an academic addict (ask anyone who knows me well) and there are so many questions that arise through observations in the woods. There are endless trees to become acquainted with, bird calls to know my heart, cloud formations to interpret, scents to research, wind sounds to internalize. The nuances of walking on different terrain – dried leaves, decomposed granite, boulders, brittle twigs, dried lichen is a therapeutic dance to be learned. As I feel when walking in a bookstore, when I walk into a forest I am overwhelmed by how much there is to read. There is a blissful frustration that comes by knowing I’ll never be able to read it all, but also that I will never run out of things to read.
So, when I look at this pin I am reminded of all the ways the forest and mountains provide me this sense of home as articulated (messily) above.
But this pin also symbolizes the other, more weighted sense of “home” that I’ve gained better clarity on lately. There are many people I love that I have to leave in order to pursue this line of work. But, all of these people are “home” to me. It is a physical pain to know that what I’m going for takes me far from them. But to not go would be (for me in this moment) to not live, to not respond to that which I believe God is calling me to. But… gosh…how often and intensely I long to carry them in my pocket with me always.
This tent-on-the-move broadcasts itself to be “home sweet home” because a tent is a “home” you can take with you wherever you go, a shelter that is exportable, a cozy nook to be carried with you always. I like to think that the people you love most you can carry with you in a similar way. They remain a shelter for you. Even when they are geographically far, just knowing who they have been and remain in your life is a sort of shelter of you, a cozy nook you can carry with you. As E.E. Cummings says:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart) i am never without it (anywhere i go you go)
I think that is true. It is, of course, not the same as being geographically next door, but for those people that are as much as part of my sense of “home sweet home” as being in the forest, they are always with me. Because – they are in my heart, which I am never without. Call that cliché if you wish, but it is one of the most real and true things I know. I have full faith in it.
For this and just because I love the thing, I am rarely not wearing this pin. It reminds me that what I am doing is a way of finding myself and my “home sweet home” by spending time and working in the woods. It whispers to me that the anxiety and pain of going far away, and the walking into the foggy unknown is worth the weight of the effort. But, it also symbolizes to me that I am carrying all those that are an equal part of my “home sweet home” on my person, symbolized by a pin perched just over my heart.
(p.s. do yourself a favor – www.beholderbadges.com)