May I describe what is going on within me these days?
I find myself stumbling around -- or not stumbling. Rather, just edging my way around. Picking my way carefully as the hobbits do through the Midgewater Marshes, or Frodo and Sam through the more famous Dead Marshes on the borders of Mordor.
And I'm not saying I'm approaching my own personal Mordor, dontchaknow -- in fact, I feel a little bit like I'm on the back of an eagle, leaving it behind -- but that's not to say that my stomach isn't lurching and that I don't feel more than a little unmoored.
To go back to my marshes metaphor -- I'm avoiding the bogs, but every now and again I fall flat on my face on solid ground, and I end up looking slightly ridiculos and more than a little mortified.
My forehead shows a slight bruise from where I landed. My nose is tender. There is dirt in the hairs of my eyebrow and my nostrils are smooshed.
Have you ever been in a situation where you had to reconsider much of your self-concept? And it's not like having an existential crisis; nowhere during this short time (that I cannot begin to make sense of) have I everwondered Who Am I and What Is My Purpose and What Is the Point of It All Anyway. I am not a nihilist.
No -- it's considering, for the first time, based on new evidence and maybe a new willingness to see a little more of the surrounding landscape (and we're talking maybe a half a foot farther in the circle of grass that encompasses me), that maybe I'm different than I thought I was.
Maybe the ambitions I thought were mine were only ones I thought I should have.
Maybe those are good ambitions, but maybe it's also time to start asking ourselves what we want.
And not just what we want to want, but what talks to us in our souls.
Earlier this month -- not very long ago at all -- I took a short jaunt back to what a friend of mine calls the Motherland -- Texas. When I initially moved to Greensboro, I was, of course, driving, so the change in terrain was very gradual and didn't occur to me. Greensboro is homey, too. Plus I love all the trees here -- it fulfills some of my longing for the forest, for Fangorn and Lorien -- and for Sherwood, the first forest we all fall in love with because if we are anything, we are the children of Robin Hood though we do not know it.
If you've been around here for any length of time, you know of my longstanding love affair with Texas sky. I moved away from Tejas on December 26, so on Christmas Night my parents and I and our much-beloved dog Chunk took a walk down to the lake that sits chill a ten-minute walk from the back door I grew up slamming. I wore a new coat that was my Christmas present. The water was charcoal-silver and the sky was slate blue and I watched a fire-sunset descend into what looked like molten lead whence some Marvel villain might arise.
My mother cried.
And that sunset was my Texas sky, and Mama cried because she knew it was the last one I would see for a while.
Flash forward six months, when my sainted mother and father picked me up from Dallas Love Field. We walked to the truck and pulled out of the parking lot (thank you, Tolltag, for making that process super easy), and turned left -- and I gasped.
And I exhaled.
I know beautiful sky exists other places in the world. I've seen it. But Texas sky is like you turned a bowl upside-down on top of a completely flat surface. It's so big. You could get yourself lost in that sky --
And it was my sky. It was like I had been suffocating slightly in the thick humidity and then I could breathe again, freely.
(I HAD been suffocating in the humidity a little bit, but I digress.)
The best part was that I immediately exclaimed, "Oh, it's my skyline!" Because there, stretched out in front of me and a little to the right, was my familiar Dallas skyline on the not-too-distant horizon. Like it was straight out of a pop-up book.
Reunion Tower. The green-etched building where Mom used to work in the early 90s before any of the three of us were born. I hadn't know it before, but I thought then that maybe I would always have that skyline graven into the tablet of my heart.
(Write them on your foreheads; teach them to your children as you walk along the road.)
I love traveling; I have been to Europe , and I have fallen in love with it. I have wanted to live there since I was a little girl. I have also always wanted to leave my state. It's a slightly sad thing to admit -- not sad, but shameful -- but I have wanted to be something other than a hick.
I guess somewhere in my heart, I've believed that I wouldn't be taken seriously in the world if I was Texan.
But now I live in North Carolina, and I can't stop talking about Texas. I joke: How do you know someone's from Texas? Wait five minutes; they'll tell you. Everything is "In Texas" this and "In Texas" that.
I have what I wanted, but when I went back home I had to stop and consider if it was actually what I wanted -- or if I just thought I should want it.
The roads are bigger there, and the sky is so big it could hold the whole world, and my heart expanded from its constraints and spread itself wide and lolled and lounged until it filled the sky, too.
Clouds can't hold that heart. That expanse.
My parents bought our house in 2000. That means that, since June 16 just a couple of weeks ago, it's belonged to our family for eighteen years. My baby brother, Cooper, who turned nineteen this year, has never known another home.
I was almost six when we moved in on our block. We live on about an acre and a half out in the country, surrounded by horses and -- what's more to a girl who is from Sherwood -- trees.
When you're six years old and have pale blonde hair and have just moved back to the Motherland from the humidity of Florida, an acre and a half is so big you can hardly imagine it. The back line of our fence felt like a whole world away.
Can I tell you something?
It still does.
Now I'm almost 24 and I'm five feet three inches and our yard is inhabited by a giant black dog with little socks on his paws that Mom calls his no-shows, but going to the back of our backyard is still an adventure.
When I was little I used to count the trees when Dad was doing yard work (and I was trying to avoid doing yard work, at least a little bit). Front and back yards combined, we always had over two hundred, even excluding the ones that died and had to be cut down.
Our back porch isn't big, but it seats all five of us (and Chunk) comfortably, and one of Mom and Dad's favorite things is to sit out on the porch in the mornings and evenings. We have no awning, but we are overhung by trees.
On my last night in Texas about a week ago, I sat on that back porch after we came home from our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant and stared up at the trees and cried.
You see -- these are my trees. They belong to me.
There is a corner of our backyard, on the other side of a ditch, where I would walk, barefoot, in circles for hours. This was where I daydreamed. I carved out a track for myself and for the worlds I constructed with my dirty feet and fairy dust that swirled about my fingers.
No water ever ran in that ditch, but it was a river. It was the Sea. And that backyard the woodlands of all legends,
And I tore myself away from it with weeping, because that red brick house is my home amidst my own personal Old Forest.
I went to Texas for two weeks, and then when I came back to North Carolina, my grandmother passed away, so I had to turn around and go back to Texas for her funeral. But at the end of that first two-week visit, my parents went to the farm to see Mawmaw, and it was just Coop and I at home. I was tired of being in the (cold) house, so I put on what I affectionately refer to as my Tacky Flip-Flops and went outside for just a minute.
And I was lured away from the backyard, out the gate under the trellis -- up the driveway -- and down the hill on the next block.
Dallas is part of the region of Texas that used to be prairie. The hills aren't huge, but they roll. To reach this hill, literally turn down the road at the stop sign, and there it is. Coasting down this hill on bikes as a kid was the definition of freedom.
And on this night I was crying so hard I was slurping my tears up as I saw the golden light of evening in summer in Texas peeking through the leaves.
I remembered a favorite piece of music of mine: a piano quartet by British composer Herbert Howells (Opus 21, in case anyone was wondering: the piano quartet in A minor). He and another contemporary composer, Ivor Gurney, were friends, and apparently used to visit a certain hill in the English countryside together. When Howells wrote this quartet, he dedicated it thus:
To Chosen Hill, and to Ivor Gurney who knows it so well.
This hill is my Chosen Hill. It's mine.
All of this -- all of the mixed-up recollections and the crying and the longing to wrap my arms around the big tree near where the trampoline used to be, from which the tire swing used to hang, where Daddy has tried to get the St. Augustine grass to grow for years and now it's finally happening -- all of it is to say this: I'm more of a homebody than I thought I was.
I've got more of a longing to be in Texas than I knew I had. I miss our summers, I miss the size of the highways (except not you, I-35), I miss the coffee shop where I discovered sparkling tea, I miss my friends, I miss our dog --
I miss my house.
I miss my home.
I am homesick for my own personal Sherwood Forest where the light shines the way it does in the Shire on mornings and evenings of a summer.
When I read about Middle-earth -- I'm in the middle of my annual-every-summer Lord of the Rings reread right now -- I've always wanted to live in Gondor or Rivendell. Or sometimes Rohan. The Shire is undoubtedly beautiful, but I've never loved it with a heart-love the way Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin do. I suppose that's just as well -- I'm not from the Shire -- but my longing has been for the loftier -- partly because I freaking love Minas Tirith. But I will admit to you that I want to live in Rivendell partly because it is higher and I feel like I should.
But I've come to see I have my own Shire, and it's called Texas. And the longings and pangs I have for it cannot be so different from Frodo and Sam's desire for the Shire.
And maybe I'm more of a hobbit than I thought I was.
I love traveling, I love adventure -- but maybe, maybe, I desire home, too.
I say maybe because I know nothing yet.
Because I don't think this is an issue of writing prescriptions and deciding. It's a story of allowing your gray rain of emotions to slant through you sideways and experience the fact that I desire my home.
I can live a lot of places and love a lot of things, but there's something about the light slants down through the leaves above our back porch. And I will always drink it up like I'm dying of thirst and this golden water is the miruvor of Rivendell.
And so this is a time of reconsidering what I've always assumed about myself. What do I want, really?
And that feels more quietly daring, more defiant, even, of what people have come to expect of me, than many a thing I've done in a long while.
Maybe it's not what people expect of me, but the identity I've built around myself.
This is not a reconsidering, a post-Civil-War reconstruction, a brutal soul-gutting. This is gentle, and feels itself like coming home, like when you find your singing voice for real. Someone has taken me by the hand and walked me a few paces back into the country that I come from and I have gasped, "Oh!"
And then exhaled in the smells and sounds of my Sherwood.
Nothing needs to be done with this. It is enough to see and feel and smell, and to fall in love all over again with home -- and also to fall in love with it for the first time, because it's like seeing it with new eyes.
It's coming home from a long journey and seeing the country where you come from with all the familiarity of contempt -- and all the wonder of magic.
Old Forest, Bywater, and all.