Close to home

The Thinker by Rodin

Life is conspiring to keep me close to home this year. It seems a bit weird. Between vacations, mini vacations and business trips, it’s rare to go more than a couple of months without spending a few nights at least a few hundred miles from home. Not this year, at least so far. Here it is April already and I haven’t even ventured across the Potomac River to Maryland to see my father. No jumping from Eastern Time to some western time zone, unless you count the move to daylight savings time. This is due in part to apathy but mostly due to cutbacks in government travel. The sequestration started to squeeze long before it went into effect. We could all see it coming. One of the first management dictates was no traveling anywhere, at least not without special high-level authorization. So no snaking through the security lines at Washington Dulles with the business laptop in my carry on bag. Lots of extra conference calls and Webex sessions instead, trying to do the same work but just a lot less productively. It’s all about being squeezed.

My wife (who never goes anywhere on business) is actually traveling more than me this year. She has had one trip to Boston, and another one to Las Vegas in July, both for pleasure. Looking at my own plans for travel, the closest I have come to scheduling a trip will be a June trip to Louisville, Kentucky. It won’t be for business, but for the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I went four years ago and had a great and spiritually uplifting time. It seemed time to do it again. I plan to drive.

So it is close to home for me this year, at least unless plans change. What I am discovering is that while home is a place where you spend so much time, you tend to largely ignore it. It’s there but you don’t see it. Instead, you spend your time either at home or just around it involved in dull chores like trimming the hedges. Or you spend it going to the same places over and over again: work, the gas station, the supermarket, the superstore and maybe once a month the local Silver Diner for breakfast. All those places in between, although I have lived in my neighborhood nearly twenty years, are rarely if ever visited.

The best way to experience where you live is to ditch the carbon-emitting automobile. Feet or a bicycle are preferred. Neighborhoods need to be encountered slowly, not passed through. So it is here in Oak Hill, a suburban oasis, but a place where few go anywhere without an automobile. Maybe that’s why we are overweight. So best to put on the walking shoes and amble our local neighborhoods instead. Sometimes I find I prefer to listen a podcast while I walk. A lot of the time I prefer to look, listen and smell. There is much to take in. The wind rustling through the trees. A cluster of mosquitos captured in the sunlight above the creek. The rustle of a squirrel in the underbrush. Occasionally you see the unexpected. The other day along a path by our local creek I watched three deer moving rapidly through the woods. Often I am conscious of my own shoes hitting the pavement, or my elevated breath moving in and out of my lungs. There is the occasional squeal of a child in a backyard playground, or the soft crunch of a car coming down on its shock absorbers as it pulls into a driveway. Depending on the time of year I may feel the numbness of cold air on my throat (forgot the scarf) or sweat on my forehead and under my armpits. Mostly while outside you get the intense feeling of the life that is all around you, and of the connection of everything in your environment. It is curious we have houses where except for a cat or a plant we deliberately seal nature out.

This neighborhood called Oak Hill is home but at least for me it doesn’t quite feel like home. Home still feels like Endwell, New York, where I spent my youth. I may have lived twice as long in this house as I did in Endwell, but my house feels transient. It’s a way station to my next station in life, which probably is not back in Endwell, but someplace else, a retirement villa around Boston perhaps. This may come from simply living in Northern Virginia. It is constantly changing and growing and thus it feels more transient than permanent.

I really should not feel that way. Where I live has few downsides (hot summers and traffic are about it) but lots of plus sides. It has lots of ethnicities, great and varied restaurants, culture, arts, entertainment, theater, world-class newspapers and more educated people per square mile than most other places on the planet. This area has kept me engaged and employed for more than thirty years. This area should be home to me. It should be where I want to spend the rest of my life.

And yet I know I will be leaving. I don’t know when and I don’t know why, but I am just a long-term visitor. I still think of Endwell as my home, but the more I see the place as an adult the less I want to live there again. It’s more the idea of Endwell than the actual place that attracts me to it. It was a place where I felt happy and have good memories. My real home may be my next home, or the one after that. Or maybe I am just a gypsy and that’s why I really don’t mind traveling regularly. Perhaps home is not a place, but a state of mind.

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