Mr. Hussman was my 11th grade history teacher.
His first name was Benedict.
He had very dark hair and very pale skin and glasses that made his eyes look a little buggy.
He'd once been well on his way to becoming a priest when he mysteriously left seminary to teach high school history in the suburb of Chicago I’d recently moved to. I’ll bet there’s a helluva story there, but alas, I was entirely too preoccupied with my 17-year-old melodramas to dig for it. And ol’ Ben was good with boundaries, so I likely wouldn’t have been able to pry it out of him anyway (I was definitely not allowed to call him Ben…as a matter of fact, it still feels super weird even to write it, so "Mr. Hussman" he stays).
Back to history class.
Mr. Hussman had a few classroom habits that have stuck with me over the years. One of them was his ongoing explanation of the difference between personal and collective rights through the wild swinging of his arms (that image was oddly helpful during law school…for real).
Another, and the pertinent one in this conversation, was that he would often ask a series of questions related to colonization or religion or westward expansion that culminated in the entirety of the class yelling "LAND!” at the tops of our lungs (in Mr. Hussman’s class, land was the underlying motivation for pretty much every policy and practice in the U.S. for the 200 year span we were studying). It happened at some point in nearly every class and was remarkably boisterous- everybody loved it (or at least the opportunity to yell in class).
By the way, his habit of leading us to yell “LAND!” may or may not have been responsible for a somewhat embarrassing moment in college when I yelled “LAND!” quite loudly and suddenly during an otherwise rather dry lecture, causing the nearly 300 students in the class to collectively jump out of their skins and the professor to simply stare at me for what might be the single longest 20 seconds of my life. Thanks, Ben.
So. Why am I telling you all of this?
Because I have been yelling “LAND!” a whole lot in my head lately.
You see…we bought some.
I can still hardly believe it.
It’s a little 1/2-acre slice of off-grid heaven wedged between North Cascades National Park and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
There’s a river right around the corner. And a creek running through the middle of it.
There are snow-capped mountains surrounding it and tall, fragrant cedar trees tucked into every nook and cranny.
The huge sword ferns feel prehistoric and the glossy salal plant with its blue-black berries remind me of the wild blueberries in Maine.
There’s no electricity and no cell signal and no man-made sounds to be heard.
Maybe someday we’ll build a little bunkhouse cabin.
Maybe someday we’ll want more space.
But for now, we're content to tuck Kippee into the arms of those cedar trees and carve out a little respite from the bustle and busy of Seattle.
To sit under those ferns and listen to the cacophony of birds and forget the dings and buzzes and engines and clatter of daily life.
To watch the icy water pool into eddies behind my ankles as I let the river wash me clean of all my many failings.
Mr. Hussman led his motley group of high-schoolers down question after question until we came to realize that the answer was always, again and again, “LAND!”
Decades later, I find that the same has turned out to be true for my heart…no matter how many ways I ask what path I must travel to find my answers, what I need to feel whole and connected and alive, the answer comes rebounding off the insides of my skull…land, land, LAND!
Whether the broad swaths of public land that have nourished me back to life over and over, or now this little corner we’ve taken under our care, it is always the land that brings me home to myself.
LAND! LAND! LAND! (try yelling it…why is that so fun???)
P.S. A lot is happening around here! Chili is doing spectacularly and we are so utterly smitten it’s not even funny. I’m totally in love. Also, the new Cindy Giovagnoli Photography website is live, though still missing a few things and acting a bit wonky on mobile (I’m working on it…)…look for a bigger announcement when I’ve worked out the kinks, but head on over and give it a peek! I’d love to hear what you think! Some things around this website will start shifting soon…exciting changes are in the works!
P.S.S. I’ll be in New England briefly at the end of July/beginning of August and have two photo session slots left (August 1 & 2)…if you are thinking about a personal branding session, family portraits, senior pictures, or any other kind of photos and want to chat, be sure to reach out quickly as I expect to fill those slots soon!
P.S.S.S. Just for the record, Mr. Hussman was one of those teachers…you know the ones. He saw my potential when I was struggling and gently nudged me to push through. He’s partly the reason I majored in history in college and still love all things history to this day. If any of you ever run into a Benedict Hussman teaching history near Chicago, tell him his work truly mattered to at least one person and that she’s damn grateful to him.
A neighbor with my dream cabin…who wants to help me build this baby? Anyone? Anyone?