What is Home? People or Place?

Physcially and spiritually I am grappling with the concept of “home.” Who or what is home to me? I am quite lucky right now. I have a physical home of my own. This safe harbor is not something I take for granted even on ordinary days. However the Mendocino Complex fires of last summer alerted me to the precariousness of my current security. All that shelters and sustains me could be gone in a flash. I am so grateful that firefighters managed to save our neighborhood and to minimize damage to most of the homes and communities that circle this lake. Even on this rainy day, I don’t forget that I live in a potential tinderbox.

(And here I am, oathed to a trickster god of fire…)

Is “Home” an Overwhelming Love of Place?

We moved very often when I was a kid and I’ve moved more often than I liked as an adult. So for me a sense of “home” based on locale is unreliable. Yet I become very attached to houses and geographic locations. Very. I’ve lived almost my entire life as a homesick exile, yearning first for the waters of Waikiki and the view of the Ko’olau Range that I remember from a brief (but significant) period of “small kid days” on O’ahu. Later I desperately yearned to return to La Jolla after we were evicted from a La Jolla Cove beach house slated for demolition. I was a teenager then and had woven strong connections with the waters, sands, and cliffs, as well friends and the town itself. I still have a vivid sense of what it was like to feel the air in that place and to be surrounded by friends within walking distance.

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The house I used to live in is at the far right, upper corner, partial view.

In my twenties I moved north. In San Francsico there is a building that my uncle owned. I lived for several years in the studio apartment below his flat. It’s the place where I designed and made punk rock vinyl clothing. It’s the place where I’d go upstairs for long wonderful conversations with my uncle before he died. It’s the place where I later spent ten weeks on strict bedrest for pre-term labor, staring at the knotty pine paneling all day while my husband was at work. It’s the first home my first child ever knew, sleeping in a crib in the kitchen. Occupation of that apartment was guaranteed to me in my uncle’s will and now that I’m single again and getting on in years, I could certainly use it–it’s close to health care and other helpful resources that would ease my social isolation–yet certain family members refuse to let me return, due to their greed for high rents.

Across the street from that building there is a house where I lived in the early days of my children’s lives. It’s the first home I ever (co)owned. I gave birth to my second child right there in that house. In the front yard there is a Cecil Brunner rose bush. The placenta from my second pregnancy is buried in that soil beneath the roses. I can never forget that, the birthplace of my second child.

That San Francisco street where I lived, in those two separate places, is in my bones and I ache with the memories of it. I remember gathering blackberries in the summer with my children, on Kite Hill two blocks away…

I also miss that house and neighborhood in Albany where my kids later grew up and where my family ultimately unraveled… I ache for that place too. It was a place where I could walk my youngest to school. I once painted a tile portrait of my only little dog, Iggy, and it is part of a mural in the park across the street.

I miss my house on Mano Street in Pahoa, Hawai’i, the place where I went after we sold the Albany house, while my divorce was in its final stages. I don’t regret the din of coqui frogs at night but I do miss the feral cats on my porch every morning. This was such a brief home, one that held all my dying hopes for a final love. Even so, I spent every moment of my life in that  place homesick for my kids in California and yearning for the sight of an acorn on the ground. Yet I loved that house and its bit of land with all my heart. Sometimes I feel the air of that place on my skin and smell again the rotting strawberry guavas in the jungle. I taste the coconuts that would fall on the lawn.

So here again in California I am still exiled, living 150 miles away from the San Francisco Bay Area where my kids live, as well as several friends and a couple remnants of family. Even in exile I’m attempting once again to make “a home” and a life for myself. I love my house here and the view of Mt. Konocti and the lake. I write constantly. I watch long strings of birds fly by. Turkeys stride through my yard. Deer feast on geraniums. Out back I have my temple to Loki. I have great neighbors. I’m meeting good people. Yes, I’m in love with this house, built the year I was born. But the people I love seldom come here.   I don’t quite feel I belong. Can this truly be my home?

Or Do People Make the Home?

So even though I have an intense relationship with places and fall in love with them easily and deeply, I am more likely to equate family with “home.” Growing up I was sure of my place with my mother and siblings. As an adult with my own children, I was sure of the family I’d co-created. I spent much time “making a home” while the children’s father worked to support us. But neither of these situations was sustainable. In both cases, a great deal of that surety of “home” has unraveled because key relationships have crumbled. And also, my grown children are busy in their lives.

Some people say that friends who are chosen family can be more family than blood kin. I wish I could have that experience of really dedicated chosen family and/or intentional community. But though I have several excellent friends (some old, some new), only one  of them has viewed me as “family” to my knowledge. Certainly they are devoted to me and I am devoted to them, but in some cases they have families of their own, and in other cases, are clearly friends, not family. And none of them are potential co-creators of a groovy intentional community of elders. I guess I’ve given up on that dream.

So are the actions of “making a home” what matters? If so, I am mostly occupied with making a home for my cats, and though they are definitely dear “family,” they’re cats. It’s been very hard to understand these last three years that I am no longer making a home for my children, not even a vacation home for their weekend amusement, as I’d hoped. All I can do at this point is leave the property to them when I die and hope they don’t bicker about it too much.

So if home is not a place, and it’s not even people, and it’s kind of about cats, what else is there? Home is me in my body. Home is my unseen community. “Making a home” means living inside my DNA construct, which is “home” to countless microbes. It becomes the act of welcoming ancestors and deities, who represent other kinds of enduring relationships. Feeling at home on a piece of land means making offerings to wights and expressing gratitude and good will, no matter where I am.

Humans will come and go as they will, Houses will remain or they’ll crumble or burn. So I must carry the idea of home in my body and see to the needs of my four-footed “children” who are sadly not immortal. Worship is portable, as is creativity. That’s pretty much all I can see.

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