AMTRAK DAY EIGHT
November 28, 2014
I fall instantly in love with places. These eight days on the train I have given my heart to the mesquite-laden hills around Austin … the sun-drenched center of Forth Worth … Saint Louis’ sorrowful elegance the night after the non-indictment … a distant Illinois farm house friended on flatness by a fat silo and tussle of trees … Champaign’s stately stone campus mid-visit by a flying saucer … and countless towns around my home state’s Great Lake. Red brick warehouses warm against gray skies. Black woods traced in snow. Cold creeks crested with arching grasses. Bluish clouds blow sideways from the stacks. Victorian villages line the tracks.
I love them all. My mind makes a future in each one, filling in the unknowns with optimistic dreams of what life could be. I spend a few years there (or months, or minutes) making friends with the neighbors and finding meaningful work building community until a plop of snow drops from a branch and I look again and fall in love again with this new life in front of me.
“I could live there,” I think. “In that house 2nd from the church with the corner store down the street and no fences between yards … I could live there and befriend a few people and make another living.” I know deep down this is not true. I have done that. I have moved many places thinking it would be a piece of cake to start over … and in some ways it is. But in the most important way – having a community of friends, people you love and trust to support one another – it is hard. It takes three years to build that. I wasn’t ready to start over again.
“Where are we?” Mom asks while looking up the map on her phone. “Nowhere … oh, wait, we’re by the finger lakes … above Elmira where your great-great-grandmother landed for a while when she first arrived from Russia … and we’re coming up on Ithaca where your grandmother went to college.” This makes me feel suddenly connected to the landscape in a way that I wasn’t a second ago. So the middle of nowhere was somewhere after all. Perhaps this explains my fickleness for places.
Having no one childhood home (I lived in at least seven different homes growing up) or town (I had no family left in the place I grew up), I looked instead for home in the dozens of places my relatives came from. Rather than a single deep-rooted tree planted firmly in the ground, mine was like an Aspen grove spread out evenly across a broad land, or Michigan’s 40-acre fungus. I have a little history in just about every corner of the nation: Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia. They had all been home to me or my loved ones at some point. If home is where the heart is, my home is nowhere and everywhere at the same time.