Home Sweet, Nebulous, Home

Looking Homeward“Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Loss is nothing but change and change is nature’s delight.” – Marcus Aurelius

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood . . . back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” – Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward Angel

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I.

What does it mean to leave everything behind? To leave one’s home thousands of miles behind. So far in the distance it cannot be seen only remembered as though it were an island you once passed by on a ship at night or a place that was part of a long elaborate dream that caused you to smile upon waking.

And like a dream, that home is intangible – has become intangible now that you are not within it – a place in which you have stopped the momentum of its essence into your psyche like a high speed train suddenly emasculate on the tracks so a haggard man with ruddy skin and ghostly hair can stumble vertiginously back into the darkness.

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And it will never be the same. Now that you’ve left. It will always be a slightly foreign place. That home which once was a place where you lived with a slight level of unconsciousness – because you could – because you knew where everything was and how to get there, and you knew many of the people and their names and their children’s names and where they dwelled and their intimate stories – and you could make your way through the streets with a bandanna tied over your eyes.

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And in addition, you loved the city where you resided. Was there any place on earth like the Paris of the South?167

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And you loved the people with their fresh faces and audacious ideas, their ornate bicycles like whimsical piñatas speeding through the streets, their dense forest mountain paths full of fiddlehead ferns, trilliums and deciduous trees that in the fall look like the most extraordinary display of parrot feathers; their gypsy jazz and traditional Bluegrass, the rhythm of contra and clogging and hollers so green -so, so, green and contained content worlds in themselves- the youthful itinerant anarchists with their dogs and washboards and banjos, worn out fatigues and body odor; the woman who plays spoons on the street who would be beautiful were in not for her missing teeth, the persistent smell of hops and yeast with hints of citrus as the sort of eau d’ cologne and live bands of every sort in the street – 057Afro-pop, punk, experimental rock, electronica – the dolce vita flows as easily as the drinks and everyday life can be like the most gorgeous Felinni scene and just as surreal: an orgy of food and drink and friendship and fun, with an eccentric  purple bus that jets around its route each day, with laughter and music blaring from open windows, and a cross dressing nun on a tall bike as part of its shtick.

II.

In what felt like an instant, it would never be the same: the child’s bedroom, the family car, the dreams for the landscape we tended and pruned and poured over and petted for over a decade.

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We left our residence of eleveIMG_1949 (2)n years in a quick three and a half weeks: the house where we conceived our son, labored, planted fruit trees for him to climb and eat from (to nourish him) that we thought he, and I suppose we as well, would grow along side. Trees to grow old with, to love. To observe. To be in awe of how fruit grows from flowers where bees orchestrate their usual miracles.

The Buddha left his home and family to be unfettered. How would things have been different, or even the outcome of thousands of years of human history, had he taken his family with him, so that he would have been half-fettered or partially tethered? Could he have done it with them? Become enlightened that is.

I don’t stand a chance.

When I was eighteen a boyfriend wrote to me in a postcard, “Home is where I set down my backpack.” Somehow I never forgot that line or the sentiment of ecstatic freedom I sensed he felt when he wrote it. The open road, no roof, few possessions, bringing him fully into present.

The places where I set down my bags, now, full of mixed-up wrinkled clothes that are thrown on hastily each day with little care or pleasure, do not feel like home.

If anything my body is the closest thing to home – the shell that carries me from place to place and allows me to embrace those I love so that I can feel my arms around them and squeeze them to bring us heart to heart, to feel the rhythm of the organ that pumps blood and warmth through us, to feel the tributaries, rivers inside our bodies that are the same as those outside in the landscape our bodies are moving in now.

There is a great wilderness, wildness, openness to the wide-eyed sky and Sonoma coast where fault lines remain invisible to the naked eye under the earth, under the sea from this vantage, where we stand now, rolling hills dotted with tribes of cows, so far from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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When I was in high school my parents lost everything, our home and their livelihoods, in what felt like a sudden whoosh once the eviction notice was stapled to the front door. We drove around recklessly, we had no where to go: no home, no place, no money. We were looking for a miracle, a handout, a roof over our heads – who would be the benefactor of such a great act of compassion?

“Maybe I should just go the Yogi center and make yogurt,” my mother said as we drove down the bumpy gravel road in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, and I couldn’t stop laughing but I was so sad, and the dust of the road rose up behind us like smoke, and I felt elated and light like I was levitating above the gray-blue Volvo station wagon the further we traveled from the cherished shelter of my youth and all the memories that resided there – all the joy and everything else in between.

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Snow Song Triptych

Snowy WheelbarrowNearly everything stopped for two days. There was silence. Vehicular traffic ceased which seemed to erase tensions built up from years of sound pollution and I walked in a foot and a half of snow and realized, rather guiltily, as though I had fractured fine china, that I had stepped on two snow angels a child had made earlier that morning.

A solo leaf, that managed to cling on until then, far past fall, gracefully somersaulted midair, and like a sporadic mouse skirted and scraped the very top layer of snow speaking a language where only sssssssshhhhhhhhhh was possible.

At times the wind picked up a handful of snow, turning it into a little glittery tornado swirling about, until each particle dissipated back into the whole where it was granted, once again, the gift of invisibility.

The Art of Seeing a Gallery Curated by No One

“An alchemist puts the phenomena of the world in another context” – Anselm Kiefer in an interview with art critic Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times

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Perhaps the greatest gallery of all is the one in a city’s abandoned spaces, outdoors, left to chance, curated by no one and left to evolve by the hands of strangers and the elements of nature – all rust and chipping away layers – creations where permanence and impermanence entwine nonchalantly – and through the alchemy of these forces something new evolves.

These collaborative art works with egoless, anonymous creators and no monetary value, made by everyone and no one, change subtly over the seasons. Sometimes flowers and plants interject their presence into the compositions, sometimes they appear barren, sometimes spray paint is applied to their acts of rebellion.

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What might be called “graffiti” is painted over, but even that is done unintentionally in a way that resembles or becomes “contemporary art.” The pieces are abstract and complete, whole finished works in themselves, without effort or ambition.

Geometric LayerEach time I walk to the café where I write and pass through this gallery, I see something new as if the art gives my eyes greater acuity. I have to stop and look – I am drawn toward them like a Lepidoptera to light and I want to get that close to see their every layer and contour.

I must look like a peculiar woman as I stare scrupulously at what might appear to someone else as nothing, a woman photographing nothing, but I can’t help myself. In the detritus and rust and brokenness of these pieces, I see something sublime and illuminating that I must frame; compositions worthy of greatness, a place where art, alchemy, the natural landscape, the city’s history, and randomness meet, like a mushroom blooming out a rotting log, a place where the cycle of creation and death reveal there is really no end to anything and that art is everywhere and in every thing.IMG_2194 - Copy




A Scuppernong by any Other Name Would not Taste so Sweet

After a decade in North Carolina, surrounded by mountains four-hundred and eighty million years old, I can now say y’all in a smooth velvety way, without flinching (at least in my head), but during my first summer in Asheville as I walked through the Western North Carolina Farmer’s Market I wouldn’t have dared.

During this excursion I smelled a sweet, intoxicating, honey-like aroma I had never encountered before. Soon I came upon the culprit – rows and rows of large green and purple grapes in light blue cardboard cartons.

“What are these?!” I asked the bone-thin woman in her eighties selling them, whose tight ashen curls had probably been in curlers the night before.

“Scuppernongs and muscadines,” she said, matter-of-factly.

I fell in love with them right there.

Scuppernong: this fun, playful word’s singsong feel, which I still cannot say without a smile on my face, was as much a discovery to my vocabulary as the taste of this new grape was to my palette. Little did I know, I had encountered the official state fruit of North Carolina.

They are much larger than your average grapes and perfectly globular. The deep purple ones are aubergine in hue; the light green are slightly transparent and speckled, with hints of gold, but their thick skin makes them more opaque.

When you bite into them, the tough, tart skin bursts open to the sweet, firm jelly inside, that slips away from the skin instantly, a delicious surprise once you bypass the first crisp bite into the bitter skin; The honey floral essence with hints of ferment infuses into this unusual musky grape and makes them complex like no other grape you will ever eat. The large bitter seeds don’t get in the way of enjoying the pleasure of each one.

According to “State Fruit: Scuppernong Grape,” by Jessica Lee Thompson, from the North Carolina History website, a Scuppernong is the large green variety in the muscadine family. The purple ones are usually called muscadines though there are several different varieties within those general categories

Early settlers named muscadines after the French Muscat grape, but muscadines are native to the southern United States. The oldest known living vine is over 400 years old and still active, covering half an acre on Roanoke Island (I must see it someday), and the first wines made in the United States were actually made from North Carolina Scuppernongs.

You can buy muscadine wine and Scuppernong jam, but my favorite way to eat them is fresh from the vine. You can only get them once a year in this area, around the cusp between summer and fall, so it has become something I look forward to every year.

Today I went to the Western North Carolina Farmer’s Market and bought two bushels of Scuppernongs from the same woman who first revealed them to me. The bittersweet of each one mirrors the transition between summer and fall.

They are best enjoyed while looking out over the mountains when the leaves do their magical costume change across the Blue Ridge.