I recently came across the word querencia and it grabbed my heart in a way few words can and simply will not release me. I can’t stop thinking about it. Do you know this word? You should.
I’m going to pull an excerpt from where I discovered it, because Barry Lopez explains it far better than my rehashing would (emphasis my own) :
"In Spanish, la querencia refers to a place on the ground where one feels secure, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn. It comes from the verb querer, to desire, but this verb also carries the sense of accepting a challenge, as in a game.
In Spain, querencia is most often used to describe the spot in a bull ring where a wounded bull goes to gather himself, the place he returns to after his painful encounters with the picadors and the banderilleros. It is unfortunate that the word is compromised in this way, for the idea itself is quite beautiful — a place in which we know exactly who we are. The place from which we speak our deepest beliefs. Querencia conveys more than “hearth.” And it carries this sense of being challenged — in the case of a bullfight, by something lethal, which one may want no part of.” *
A place in which we know exactly who we are. Where we gather ourselves and prepare for the challenges we face in the world. A place from which we draw our strength of character.
Can you see why I’m obsessed?
It’s no secret that the idea of “home” has been something I’ve thought a lot about over the last year or so. I’ve spoken of it here repeatedly. And querencia conveys what I have been ruminating on far more thoroughly than the word “home” does. Because I haven’t been trying to figure out where we each lay our heads to sleep or where we hang our clothing or store our belongings or where we prepare our meals. I haven’t been looking for “hearth.” I have been searching for an understanding of querencia.
It must be innate, part of our DNA, rooted deeply within us. When I throw my net wider, out into nature, it’s apparent that querencia is a story of survival. The western tanager knows by deep instinct where to migrate to safety when the temperatures begin to drop. A chinook salmon knows to swim nearly two thousand miles from the Bering Sea up the Yukon River to spawn her young in her querencia. The field mouse burrows her warren of tunnels deep under the snow to find respite from cold and predation.
We humans have inborn instinct for our querencia, as well. When I was in my early twenties and running from trauma and cancer and a feeling of overwhelming aloneness, I ran for a place I had never been but knew by some deep intuition was querencia. Standing among the jagged mountains and towering trees deep in Glacier National Park, I let the terror and abandonment and impotence rip its way out of me, gathered as I was in the embrace of timelessness. I have come back to mountains and trees and wildness over and over to recover lost pieces of myself, to rediscover my strength, my values, my core.
I am finding as I grow older that people hold pieces of my querencia as well. The tiny handful of trusted friends to whom I can confide my darkest thoughts or my craziest dreams or my most tentative and fragile ideas. Instead of “helping me be realistic” these friends hold my ideas, my dreams, my shaky confidences and protect them. They allow me to pull them out of my head into a world waiting to smash them and these querencia souls help me breathe life into them when I might never be secure enough to do it alone.
And I am learning where and how I carry querencia within me. How to close my eyes and pause for a breath and find the space within me that has been carved out- chiseled out of the mountain streams and the hours on the yoga mat and the holes that have been punched through my heart and the love and embraces that have patched those holes and the sunrises that set the sky on fire and the nights spent on blankets watching for shooting stars and the truth of my own very basic survival. I know that the word means a physical place, a place on the ground, but I can’t help but feel that perhaps I’ve begun sprouting a querencia organ that sits somewhere between my lungs and just below my heart. Maybe it is whatever the opposite of a tumor is, a tangible open space that walks along inside of me, a little field mouse warren that offers safety below the skin.
We need this, you know. Each of us. A place to go where we can gather ourselves for the battles to come. We all have our version of a two thousand mile journey up the Yukon River, upstream moments that leave us exhausted and vulnerable and unsure that we can go on. But we can. And we can offer it to each other as well, offer the embrace or the encouragement or the safety of open hearts. We can choose to listen when others speak and to truly see them when they step into the light. I need that and so do you and so does everyone.
Let’s find our querencia and let’s be our querencia and let’s offer querencia and let’s protect the querencias of others, be them people or field mice or a tiny, sparkling idea.
*From The Rediscovery of North America- if you haven’t read this short book (seriously- it’s less than 60 large-print pages... I’ve read nutrition labels longer) please do- it’s worth having on your bookshelf and coming back to again and again.
We stopped by Louisville, Kentucky on our way back west, always eager to visit a few more distilleries and sip a little more bourbon. Louisville is a town that knows its spirits and knows its food and is worth a stop is ever you find yourself that way...