I, who have never been in love—not truly, not the kind of love you build a life around—still feel, when I see it in others, a twinge of recognition. You learn to love, my happy friends tell me, but when it first appears—without ever having been there, you know exactly where you are.
I’m less concerned with romantic love right now. Instead I feel a similar sort of longing for home. I’ve been reading Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, authors with close attention to small places. And I, always packing up and moving, can’t decide if I am more terrified or eager to be so bound to a place. In reading, I feel place-starved, lonely for a home that I have never had, that I don’t know if I can have without getting restless again.
At the very least, this spring I’ve had the time to pay attention. I watched the cherry trees unfurl their first leaves, then bud, then blossom. Before I knew it, I was sitting on my back porch as the petals fell, blown over the roofs of the rowhouses onto my laptop keyboard as I sat, pretending to type. On endless walks, I noticed when the bird’s nest appeared in the crook of a tree, watched when the river came unstuck with spring rain and strained against its banks, saw the foliage overhead stretch closer together, shade swallowing the trails more each week.
When my brother came to pick me up and drive me back to Michigan, I kept my eyes similarly open. I arrived in Jackson, population 32,000, just in time for late spring to give itself over fully to summer. Now fireflies wink from our front yard, and mosquitos swarm through our back yard. The daylight extends almost to 10 p.m., and with work from home interspersed with games and snacks and errands, my family seems to exist outside of time.
When I left this city at seventeen, I did so without a backward glance. During visits, I took the city for granted as nothing more the backdrop against which my childhood played itself out. I turn traveler’s eyes on Jackson and find myself rediscovering it—my parents’ backyard raucous with birds, the neighboring cornfields, the forests. For the first time I realize that I have missed more than friends and family; I have missed the way the air feels here on these bright evenings. I am from this place as much as I am from anywhere, and it’s this recognition that helps me know that I can feel this way again.
“My own experience has shown me that it is possible to live in and attentively study the same small place decade after decade, and find that it ceaselessly evades and exceeds comprehension,” wrote Wendell Berry. “Living and working in the place day by day, one is continuously revising one’s knowledge of it, continuously being surprised by it and in error about it. And even if the place stayed the same, one would be getting older and growing in memory and experience, and would need for that reason alone to work from revision to revision.”
As I move through life, I want to grant each new home this careful study. The people I love will always be scattered. But wherever I find myself, I can let myself slow down and pay attention. Rather than a string of half-remembered houses, I want places I belong to, where I dwell deeply, and ever after carry with me.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).