Monday, August 04, 2008

The Pull of Home

Please pardon my extended silence. I have been homing. Yes, like a pigeon.

You might remember my disparaging comments some weeks back about a particularly dirty and cosmopolitan manifestation of the Columbidae family. They are, in fact, quite disgusting. But I would like to revise my statements so as to leave some room for another variety known for their uncanny ability to find their way home. Let's just say I've felt an empathy for them lately. Homing pigeons are truly extraordinary creatures. They are capable of flying immense distances in order to come back to the location from whence they came. Ornithologists call this returning to a destination that is "mentally-marked." I call it fascinating.

Apparently, there are several species of birds with homing abilities. Encyclopedia Britannica informs me that the Manx shearwater (a species of bird primarily from the Isle of Man) was transported in a closed container to a point about 5,500 km (3,400 miles) from its nest, and returned to the nest in 12 1/2 days. That's an average of 272 miles a day. I guess if I lived anywhere as astoundingly beautiful as the Isle of Man, I would probably be in a hurry to hop home, too. But geez.

Regardless of location, humans seem to be similarly wired. Just a few days into our stay in Minnesota, the bulk of our homebound flight already accomplished in a packed airplane, I decided to unfurl my cramped muscles and go for a jog. With no particular route in mind, I stepped out onto my in-laws' driveway and took off. One hour later, I arrived panting at my parent's doorstep.

The pull of home.

The next day, I decided to try to elude the obvious by running in the opposite direction. Maybe this would overcome the gravitational magnetism of childhood abodes. Right. Half an hour later, I found myself padding along Hamilton Avenue, the street where I lived until the age of six. I had heard a rumor that they had torn down our old house to put up a new one. You see, sleepy old Deephaven is very chic now, and apparently the scrubby lake cabin from the 1920's that lodged my earliest memories wasn't going to cut it anymore. But the familiar pine tree still stood tall in the front yard. It was raining. I jogged around the back of the house to pass through the intense green of the untouched woods and silently thanked the new owners for respecting them. It suddenly struck me how funny it was that the workers sheet-rocking the new garage didn't know about my bunny rabbit buried somewhere deep in the ground back there. My dad had to chip for a long time at the frozen ground, because Thumper died in the wintertime.

The pull of home.

This is anything but a sentimental reminisce. We have all experienced such moments out of time. They strike an essential chord; betray our desire for another place. As C.S. Lewis explains so beautifully in his book The Weight of Glory:

"In speaking of this desire for a far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you - the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret which also pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, when mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both."

Was I sad that the little house with the red trim was gone? Perhaps a slight twinge of melancholy. (I
had indulged from time to time in the impossible fantasy of buying that house back someday.) But infinitely more moving than the loss of a small cottage was my joy over the accuracy of my internal compass. Here, I was being reminded of the "inconsolable secret", and I didn't have to hide or tell it to anyone. I could stand in the green luminosity of a dense stand of oaks and maples and enjoy it. Let myself become re-oriented. Rather than the past "mental markers,"I am ready to dwell on a future place. This is...

the pull of Home.

No comments: