Sunday, January 30, 2011

Prompt Blog 2

I’ve never had a place I’ve called home. I’ve lived in houses with immediate family for a number of years that would constitute as a home, but the title never felt right. Perhaps it was because I didn’t feel secure. My room wasn’t my room, it wasn’t recognized wholly as such until I moved in with my grandparents. While I lived with my parents, they would walk in without knocking, knock but walk in without permission, open the door while I’m changing just to flick the lights off in order to force me to bed at 9 p.m., and barge in to continue an argument after it had seemingly ended and I went to my room to hide. Everything I had there was a privilege. Even going out for walks around the neighborhood—along the same path and the same speed, so much so that one could time each loop—was only allowed despite my age. In most of my homes, I had escapes, and most of the time that was my room. Only when I lived with my grandparents did I stop trying to escape.
Still, even there I didn’t feel like it was home. My grandparents showed me respect by knocking on the door and waiting for permission. They even asked permission just to go in to gather laundry. The arguments were very rare and I felt welcome and appreciated. But it didn’t feel like home, though it came the closest.
When I went to Ireland in the fall of 2006, I felt a connection with the land that there was only whispers of in the states. My portals fear (open or ajar doors, windows without the blinds or curtains drawn, and mirrors) disappeared entirely and my tension eased. But my friends and family weren’t there, nor was my cat or even a job. If everything in the states had been transferred to Ireland, it would’ve been home.
I don’t think I’ll find home until I choose it for myself. For me, it might be something I establish myself instead of being plopping into. It’s a place where I can feel secure, like at my grandparents’ house, where things are wholly mine, where I can feel responsible and at ease, where I can make memories and not worry about one day losing the objects or places that are tied to them. It’s probably also a place that has a strong connection to nature.
Each place I’ve lived at was by nature. The house on Briarwood Lane when I was 7-11 years old had a large back yard that connected to surrounding back yards, proving an undulating field of climbing trees and swing sets. The next house on Joan Street was in a neighborhood with hilly streets and two parks. I lived there when I was 11-17 years old, walked an average of three miles a day (between 3-13 times around), and used my walking as an escape. Sometimes I would deviate from my route to explore the trails of a nearby forest patch, or walk down a slope next to a stream to enjoy the sounds and open grassy lawns. My grandparents’ house on Route 528 came next when I was 17-23 years old. They rented large white house on a potato farm with rolling fields of hay (I think) and potatoes, tree lines at the edge of the property, a shed around the tree bend where the landlord would hold parties, and a small pond with two large trees by the barn. There I would rollerblade along the Y-shaped driveway, stopping frequently to stare at the sunset, at the pond, at the fields and tree lines. I would watch the skies shift and learn to gauge the rain not by how quickly the clouds rolled in, but by their heaviness. A rainbow landed in the fields at least twice in the six years I lived there.
Now that I’m on my own, I live in a room that has been established as mine, in a house that holds five other people and four other pets. It’s not home yet and it probably never will be for two reasons: I don’t feel secure at all, and it’s so packed into the suburbs that I could hang from my roof and touch the neighbor’s house (we can see into their kitchens or living rooms to either side if we’re in our own kitchen or living room). There’s little to no nature here aside from our own back yards. There is a park where my housemates go to jog, but it’s a few miles down the road and rather dangerous during the winter. Just a few weeks ago, one of my housemates was mugged at the gas station across from that park.
Our readings have talked about people returning “home” and matching a tree or seeds to their late parents. They’ve asked whether the nature of nature writing is tied directly with travel writing in order to understand a place. They’ve told about growing up for generations on the same track of land and feeling an intrinsic connection to even the underground water systems. I envy the author who was able to return to a plot of land despite not living there anymore. He spoke of it as if he was coming home, and I wonder how he feels about the place he lives now. He makes me wonder whether home is something that’s built, or something that builds us? What does it mean that I haven’t found home yet? I still haven’t figured that out.

Place Blog 2

I look at my backyard every day, so why is it so hard to walk into it? So many other priorities hold precedent that I keep telling myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” “I’ll get up earlier to walk out in the morning instead of evening,” “I’ll walk into the backyard immediately after work instead of walking into the house to put my bag and mug down,” or “I’ll go out tomorrow around noon to see it in the full light of day.” But soon “I’ll do it tomorrow” turns into “I’ll do it tomorrow” again and again as I work my 8-4:30 job, commute the round trip hour and a half, and struggle to get all of my other homework turned in. Suddenly the deadline is looming without anything to show for it. All because I couldn’t push myself to go outside longer than it takes to walk from the front door to the car and back. I could force my broken window open to walk onto the sloping roof above the sunroom and achieve a bird’s eye view of the place, but I face the danger of slipping along the inches of snow and ice and falling off the roof.
But sunny days provide an interesting view. The house’s sunroom is leaking. Three splotches of snow indents are steadily seeping through the shingles, along the beams, to finally drip onto cardboard boxes and storage. Even if I find it difficult to go outside into nature, nature finds a slick way inside to visit me. The splotches usually look like an invisible entity dropped a glop of white paint and smeared it in random directions with their fingers. But today, they’re tracks made from a giant three-legged rabbit.
Another way nature finds its way to me is through my cat. Ember perches on a wooden stool by my window at the right height to watch the birds on nearby trees and gutters and roofs. She’ll make her clicking sounds as her head jerks back and forth, watching the birds fly and land and twitter about. I can hear them from my computer desk and can gauge where she’s looking. After a while, she comes to me and rears up to place her front paws on my chair. She’ll reach out and pat at me on my hip or thigh, meowing like she’s saying, “Mom! Mom! There are birds! There are birds in the back yard!” Then after I give her attention and pet her, she’ll head back to her stool to sit for the afternoon until she gets tired. She’ll then curl up on her stool to sleep, or she’ll come back to curl beneath my swivel chair.
For class this week, we read about the question of whether a nature writer must scour every inch of his or her place in order to write about it, if he or she has have to make it his or her home. Or, are writers required to travel and return in order to recognize it. Last week, we asked the question of whether we have to be in a place in order to write about it.
I ask: Do we have to be physically in a place in order to write about it? When I was inducted into Pi Sigma Tau, the philosophy honor society at my undergrad university, we listened to a speaker talk about the concept of memory. The gist of the paper was that a person is transported back in time to when he or she remembers. It’s a way to be in two places at once. Suddenly we’re back standing where we were, or sitting or laying. We’re seeing whatever it was we saw as we stare into space at a dust mote, a pattern on a wall, a friend’s earlobe. Why, then, can’t we mentally step back into our place as we sit safe at our computers?
In a private back yard that one sees every day, not much would change. But I can’t see from the roof if the cat tracks from before have been covered in at least three inches of fresh snow, or if new ones have been pressed beside the covered indents. But the upturned wheelbarrow and chair are still there, the icicles are still jutting down from gutters, some broken along slanted faults to lay haphazardly in a pile below. The garage door is still hanging open. And soon the bright yellow and white of day turns into vivid oranges and reds, then to duller violets and blues as night settles in, and suddenly another day has passed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Prompt Blog #1

The landscape that I grew up around was always forests and streams at the edges of housing developments. Only in a state park could I walk into a patch of forest and not come out the other side in a manner of fifteen minutes of steady walking. Around my various neighborhoods, there were always a handful trees to climb in every yard. The backyards were spacious enough for tumbling across and the streets wound and dipped along with natural rises and falls of the land. Many of the children I played with were pushed to be outside much like my mom had pushed me. However, they always seemed better off than I was and were allowed more luxuries like having friends over, owning gaming systems, always having snacks available, owning small battery-operated jeeps or cars that were specifically designed for a child’s body. Our time seemed to be separated evenly between the inside and the outside. At least, that was my childhood. Throughout my teenage years, my peers seemed to migrate inside while I craved my daily walks around a new neighborhood in order to escape the emotional trials of home. Soon, gaming systems became more and more popular, but bike riding and playing tennis fell to bright sunny days only, and only when there was nothing else to do as opposed to something creative to do. Soon people began worrying about relationships and drama and cars and jobs instead going outside. I managed to keep my time evenly separated between the partial safety of my room, and the safety of my chosen “path” along the sidewalks and neighborhood parks of my walking route.
When I hit college, the reliance upon gaming systems seemed to become absolute. But I managed to form friendships with people who were from the county side. Ours was a friendship of nostalgia and self-reliance. We would discover little tricks we’d picked up along the way: smelling water on the air, judging the timing of storm clouds rolling in, lying on hillsides to gaze at the stars and do nothing else, actually enjoying the walk over campus to get from one class to another, not arguing when a full parking lot made us walk five minutes to class because it provided decent exercise. We’d discover that we were more independent than the students who had dived into societal problems like what fashion trend to follow, what or how many cars to buy, what alcohol to drink on which nights, and how many times one could get laid.
It seemed that the older one got, the further away nature became. Where were the streams and trees of childhood? A few were still there, but new tenants might cut the grass of an old house’s backyard too short, and disease might have gripped a favorite tree and caused another tenant to cut it down (or cut it down because it was becoming bothersome to them for whatever cosmetic reason). The streams and small parks were still there, but other groves had been mowed down to make way for new shopping districts; no more hearing the tall pines creek and groan as they tilted in the wind, no more shelter during a rainy day. As I grew older, people seemed to have forgotten the nature they came from. I remember, but had to let the current of life take me far from my beloved countryside and tree-filled suburbs to neighborhoods of concrete and traffic.
One day I’ll own a large house that can hold many friends who need a place to stay—to give back what was given to me during my time of need. The place will have a spacious yard and, hopefully, be next to a forest line. One day I’ll find the time to get away from an 8-5 cubical job and walk through nature like I used to—go bike riding again, swim in state parks, head to beaches far away, finally see the giant redwoods, possibly see actual mountains instead of just driving down them on the way to visit family. I would love to take my friends and family by the hand and go, “Stop, a moment, and remember how it was. What you have now is nothing like that.”

Place Blog #1

I walked into the backyard for the first time the other day. It was in the evening, and I had planned to drive down the block (I wasn’t walking in the snow and slush along a busy route in 10-degree weather) to Giant Eagle for a few groceries before coming back to explore the back yard. But when I walked outside and looked at the sun, I changed plans. In the winter, the sun goes down faster than in the summer. It was behind a cloud, spreading orange and pink light like watercolors along the western sky. In less than an hour, it would’ve set fully and been too dark for me to walk over unknown terrain. So instead of walking around the car to get into the driver’s seat, I walked past it, up my neighbor’s driveway onto a raised bit of land that was the only boundary line between our yards.

The way into the back yard was like a tunnel bridge. The space between my house and the neighbor’s overhang garage and house wall was about five feet, and the houses seemed to rise forever on either side. My yard was at least a foot or two higher than my neighbor’s driveway. Walking along that stretch of land was almost like a gateway into a different world. But when I reached the end, it was just a back yard.

My yard isn’t very large—just a plot of land barely wider than my house. To the left side, a housemate had erected a tall, pointed wooden fence that leveled off in segments going down to the garage. There was an overturned wheelbarrow and an overturned white plastic lawn chair. Nothing spectacular there. To the right, however, the yard opened into many other yards, displaying swing sets, garages and sheds that all ran parallel with a graveled back lane. This stretch ended with a tall church steeple of the brick Presbyterian church and house that my housemate came from. The sky, too, opened before me. Instead of the dusty blue and purple hues of twilight, I encounter a bright splash of orange, pink, and yellow from the sunset. In the few moments, it took me to traverse the tunnel bridge, though, the sun and clouds had each shifted enough to produce a light ray that rose straight upward from the middle of the cloud. One column of pure light amongst color.

But I knew my blog couldn’t be about the sky from the view of my place, it had to be about my place, so I turned back around. This time, I noticed tracks. Three distinct trails of what I assume to be cat tracks lead from where I stood to the garage, then angled away like a billiard ball rebound, then a random one leading toward the house. The garage itself is more like a two-storied barn or workman’s garage. Painted with peeling, fading white, the garage is covered with many windows through which I could see mounds of junk. I still have no idea what is in there, I only know that another housemate (the first’s wife and my best friend, who both own the house) went in there with her grandmother to rummage through the junk in order to find anything valuable to sell. The door is broken and hanging ajar, and that is where the cat tracts converge.

When I turned to leave, I noticed that my own tracks had crossed with the cat’s, and I wondered if our paths would ever cross in the future.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Course shift

Thus ends the blogging assignments for the Memoir course and begins the ones for Environmental and Nature Writing. Titles shall follow accordingly, but this stands as a makeshift divider.