Querencia

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.

 

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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...

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Neither Here Nor There

We moved last week.

Into a house.

(I hear your collective gasps of disappointment, but no, we haven't given up on camper life already!)

Little travel trailer campers aren't designed for long-term use in freezing temperatures, and as we aren't going to be leaving Maine until January, we've known since July that we were going to need to figure out a temporary stop-gap situation for late fall and early winter. Over lunch with a talented friend a few months ago, I mentioned not being sure what we were going to do come the end of October and a few days later, I received an email from her equally talented mom who has an adorable little guest cottage on her gorgeous farm near Wiscasset that happened to be available for rent during the precise period of time we needed a place...isn't the universe amazing in that way? 

So here we are, in our second "in-between" as we move from our old life toward our new. I admit that there is a part of me that is chomping at the bit, tired of the long transition, aching to get on with this move westward. Another part of me grieves every step away from our home in Maine and our cherished community and appreciates this slow departure for the lengthy goodbyes it allows me. 

Both the pain of departure and the frustration of waiting are eased by the beauty of this gift we get to call home for the next two and a half months and my gratitude for this quiet space to tie up our loose ends runs deeper than I can express. It is truly amazing to feel the healing powers of being surrounded by forest and meadow and river and quiet, the deep peace that settles in, the creative surges that come with the renewal.

I am so very, very, very utterly grateful.

Redefining Home

So. Our house is under contract.

I haven't shared much here as Justin wanted to talk with his boss and co-workers about our plans before I "went public" but now that he has, I can tell you...

We are hitting the road, y'all.

We've been in the pre-planning stages for some time. Our plans have morphed quite a lot since we initially began thinking about what we wanted to do. It began as something grandiose and ideal..."we should save up and in ten years or so, we should sell everything and just play across North America for a few years." We wanted to take a few years "off" and just be 100% free to explore. Which would be amazing, I'm sure, but then...

We started thinking of it as a five-year-plan...how could we save enough money for ONE year of no work over the next few years?  Also, our dog, Tessie, is NOT a hiker. Like AT ALL. She pretty much thinks we are full-on punishing her when we take her so much as car-camping and just wants to go sleep in the tent the entire time and wants no parts of us or a campfire or anything else that is "outdoorsy." So we morbidly began calling it "Operation When Tessie Goes, We Go" (stop judging us). She's ten-ish years old (she's a rescue and no one really knows her age, but that's the vet's guess) and we didn't want to torture her final years with living out of the back of our truck...she's our baby after all! So we stuck with that idea for awhile. 

But then we were struck with reality. We aren't necessarily guaranteed that five years from now will be possible.

I am a cancer survivor. If there is one lesson that is driven home by being faced with a disease that wants to kill you, it is the idea that time is not something that is guaranteed to us. And not just in the sense of being struck down with illness or death or anything so dramatic. Why do we always imagine that "someday" will be easier or more financially certain than today? Why do we always think that "later" we'll be able to save more money or have more free time?

The reality is that "someday" will come with its own challenges. And that's assuming that we get a "someday."

We realized that life won't be any more accommodating for a trip like this later than it is right now. As a matter of fact, in many ways, THIS is the most ideal time for a big adventure. Our parents aren't likely to get younger or healthier than they are now. We aren't likely to become less entrenched in our work or community or life here. Simply put, it won't get easier to walk away from this life that we love by digging our roots deeper into it. 

So we began thinking about how to make traveling the country something we could do NOW. 

We are quite fortunate in the work that both of us do. Justin is a nurse and I am a hodge-podge of photographer, writer, teacher, speaker, candle-stick-maker. I can do my work from anywhere. And in the nursing world, there is an incredible thing called "travel nursing." For those of you not familiar, travel nurses work for an agency that works with hospitals across a region or even across the country. These agencies are called upon by hospitals when they have a shortage or nursing need that needs to be filled immediately and for a short-term period of time. Sometimes these needs arise because a nurse is going on extended leave (sabbatical or maternity leave, for example) and sometimes it's because a floor is having a high-turnover rate for whatever reason or the hospital has implemented policies such as requiring a lower nurse-to-patient ratio. There are hundreds of these jobs available across the country at any given time and usually last for about 3 months. The agencies usually provide benefits and either housing or a housing stipend. And, generally, they allow their nurses to continue to keep those benefits for up to 4 weeks between job assignments. So we'll be able to take a month "off" between jobs to play with total freedom.

Jackpot.

Our ideal of unencumbered flexibility has been supplanted by a plan that includes continuing to work full-time, but being able to actually go now rather than wait for "someday." And that's a pretty worthwhile trade-off in our estimation. 

So...we'll finish out 2016 here in Maine. We have a range of commitments that we want to see through and some logistics to figure out (not the least of which includes of disposing of 95% of our belongings). But early in the new year, we'll leave New England and head west.

At the moment, we aren't sure what, exactly, that will look like. Travel trailer? Agency housing? We just don't really know the answers yet. We'd planned to put our home on the market in the fall after figuring out some of those questions. But fate showed up in the form of fantastic buyers who knocked on the door and want most of our stuff as well as our home. When the universe throws you that kind of bone, you accept it and say thank you without question.

So here we go...the adventure begins 6 months before we will actually depart Maine.

It begins with how to define the idea of home. It begins with how to find "home" on the move. It begins by letting go of defining myself by my home and the things that I own. 

But perhaps, most importantly, IT BEGINS.

 

 

These Mornings

"We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were." -Joan Didion 

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It’s 6am and I’m on my second cup of coffee as I lay here in our rumpled bed, the worn flannel sheets soft against my legs, Tessie’s furry body upside down beside me. There is a fire going in the wood stove downstairs. It wards off the chill of these spring nights that still dip down to freezing. But as I look out the window at this familiar view, I can see fat buds on the horse chestnut tree outside our bedroom, some of them already bursting open and unfurling tiny, fragile leaves that will grow to be enormous in the coming weeks.

This is the last spring that we’ll spend in this house. The last time I will watch this sleeping tree that has marked my seasons for the last six years awaken to new life as I gaze out the window at the morning light. I have a tendency to hold on too tightly to such things, to feel my heart squeeze at the thought of leaving a place I’ve called home. I'm excited about our decision, at our plans to shake up our life and chase down some long-held dreams. But like all worthwhile dreams, these come at a cost, and one of those costs is forfeiting a home I’ve loved, a community I’ve loved. These mornings of quiet reflection and writing in this bed in this home after Justin leaves for work are numbered now, and while their end isn’t yet imminent, I can’t help but notice it looming. It would be so easy to slip into melancholic angst-iness about it, but I think instead I’ll focus on soaking in the details, noticing carefully all the ways in which this place has imprinted itself onto my memory, my heart. 

Right in this moment, the morning sun is cutting across the branches outside our window. It’s reaching its long fingers from the east, casting soft grapefruit-colored first rays and charcoal shadows along stretched lines through each limb.  It catches in the bits of smoke furling from our neighbor’s chimney and the smoke acts like a magic window exposing the shape of each beam of light as it passes through.

It’s not always the case that we know that we’re looking upon something for the last time, that we have the luxury of a long goodbye like this. I’m grateful for the knowing, for the chance to pay special attention to these small details that I will carry forward into life with me. Because these really are the things we both grip too tightly and lose, aren’t they? We take for granted that we’ll always know just exactly how our sweet dog smells when we bury our face into her fluffy fur when we snuggle her, but smell is a slippery thing to hold onto in the long run and someday, when she’s no longer beside me to remind me, the sharpness of that sense will dull and dim alongside so many other tiny bits and pieces. Joan Didion once wrote, “We forget all too soon things we thought we could never forget.” How true these words are. We forget just what the air felt like on our wedding day, or the exact timber of a lost loved one’s voice. But then someone in a crowd walks by and the smell of their perfume takes you with startling clarity right back to Mrs. Fox’s second grade classroom on the day she taught Haley’s Comet and for a moment you are seven years old again and your knees are shaky with the vividness of it.

I want to remember for all my life what these quiet mornings felt like in this little home we love so much, these mundane hours when I crawled back into bed with coffee and our dog and my writing tools to let free the words inside my head. Remember how much I love this unremarkable view and watched the seasons shape this single horse chestnut tree outside our window, how lovely the morning light was from this vantage point, particularly in these months when the trees are more bare than full.

We have big plans, Justin and I, and they are thrilling and wonderful plans. Plans that, once realized, will come with a million and one of their own moments like this that I’ll want to notice in intimate detail and log into the bank of memories that form the construct of my life. But right now, we’ve come to find real contentment in so much of our days and it’s simply worth noting, worth remembering.