“It’s great to be home!”
A common refrain after a trip, whether returning from a vacation or a business trip, whether coming home after two days or two months, whether reconnecting with the hearth after travels across the state or across the ocean. Not long ago, my family and I returned from our annual trek to the Minnesota Northwoods. While we relish our time away in the beautiful boreal forest near the Boundary Waters and are reenergized by wilderness, I also embrace the return home to familiarity. But I’d like to suggest that there’s a deeper dimension to what happens to our relationship with home when we travel. Missing home when we’re away involves more than just being away from the comforts of familiarity. It also means that we are missing out on the experience of a place that grounds our lives.
We often feel the need to experience other places because, if we don’t, we’re “missing out” on what the world has to offer. That certainly can be true. But few acknowledge—or even realize—that there is loss as well as gain when we go away from home. On a surface level, we miss out on whatever is happening at home. On a deeper level, we sacrifice building connections to home that are crucial to our grounding in the world. The former can be made up fairly easily by reading a newspaper or catching up on Facebook. The latter is a loss that can’t be recovered.
Anything that requires significant time and attention succeeds through persistence and consistency. When crocheting, mess up a stitch and the whole blanket can be ruined. When building a house, fail to get joists positioned properly and a floor can collapse.
Building a strong connection to home, whether our abode or our community, requires the same type of intricate persistence. The foundation of home is created in the gathering of the results of daily ritual and dedicated community work over time. We build knowledge of what is best for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and the natural landscape in which we dwell through meticulous attention to, and tenacious practice of, the rhythms of life that are the stuff of producing social capital and caring for the land. Creating a home is a project that fails without commitment—and dedication—to the daily work that builds strength and cultivates wisdom.
So when we go away from home, especially for any length of time, we’ve dropped some stitches, made a character inconsistent, fudged on the placement of a joist. While we were ensconced in the Northwoods for ten days, I missed the gradual loss of three minutes of daylight and the subtle shifts in shadows that resulted. I missed the atmospheric drama of two thunderstorms. I missed attending a meeting of the Iowa City Public Library Board of Trustees on which I sit. I missed joining the crowds at the first day of the Iowa City Jazz Festival. These may seem like minor losses, but they are nevertheless important threads that make up the tapestry of home. My intimacy with place and community has been weakened and diminished.
I am not advocating never leaving your home community—far from it. But I am hoping more people will appreciate the losses, both subtle and great, that come when we leave home behind. When we travel, we broaden our experience of the new, but we also sacrifice some depth of connection to home ground. This is the lot of material beings who cannot be in more than one place at once. Finding the balance between cultivating home ties and gaining experience elsewhere is a human dilemma that I don’t believe many people truly appreciate.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 181