Where is home? I often reflect on this when traveling to visit family back East, reveling in the beauty of my East Bay “home,” driving through Gerlach on my way to Burning Man, or posing this question to men in prison — who are living there.
I have chastised myself for “accidentally” referring to my East coast places as “home” since I’ve lived in California for 15 years. But I’ve lived in many “places,” and had many “homes” — from New York City, to Connecticut, then Massachusetts and D.C.
While living in DC, I traveled to San Francisco for business, and fell in love with the place. My first Bay Area “tourist” visit was a trip to Muir Woods. I stood solidly on the ground, in awe of majestic, aged trees. California is expansive and inspiring…the ocean, the trees, the mountains, and the desert. Returning to DC felt like a shriveling of the spirit. It was then I realized my spirit needed a lot of space.
Seven years after that first visit, with a one-way ticket in hand, I took my leap of faith, and moved to California – to be in a place that spiritually moved me. It was part thrill of adventure, and a feeling of “starting over” (although wherever I go, there I am!)
Yet even being where I wanted to be, I didn’t find my “place” right away. Though I love San Francisco, Mark Twain was right about the summers. My next move was to Marin County, which was too homogenous. So eight years ago I moved to the Berkeley/Oakland border after discovering the charming neighborhoods of Elmwood and Rockridge. It has just-the right-kind of urban feel, populated by folks in all sizes and colors – with redwood forests just 10 minutes away. This is the “place” I call now call home.
But is it really?
Last winter, I spent Christmas back East. On my fly-by trip, the first stop was New York City, to visit my sister and her family — as well as good friends. Because it’s my birthplace – and Christmastime in the city is especially magical–it was almost overwhelming to be with this new generation, who now walk in my childhood footsteps. As I traveled from New York, to Connecticut, and then New Jersey and Massachusetts to visit the rest of my family, I marveled at the passage of time, and my family’s expansion and contraction.
In July, I returned to the bucolic northwest corner of Connecticut for my step-dad’s celebration of life party, and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts where I’d spent my childhood summers on the beach. Now I play with my nieces and nephew, making drip castles and teaching my niece to “surf” the tiny waves there. I realized how much I still love these “places” that helped shape who I am today. Time goes on. And indeed, these places are still homesteads.
Then the week before Labor Day, I made my second pilgrimage to Burning Man. On my first visit as a “virgin” last summer, a half-naked woman greeted me at the gate, welcoming me “home.” Hmmm! I’d heard this was a Burning Man mantra, but how could this place possibly be home? Yet it is, indeed, a magical place – where one practices “radical self-reliance” balanced with community care. What is most evident is its spaciousness, and the impact that has on my spirit. Though the elements are harsh, the beauty of the Black Rock desert is overwhelming. It lifts me out of myself, and provides perspective.
And finally, for the past 10 years, I have entered the gates of San Quentin prison almost every week, to run my rehabilitative gardening program there. Although it is thankfully not my “home,” it is to the men with whom I work. It is there where we collectively explore our “inner gardeners” to reconnect to self, community and nature.
Although the men would rather be “home” on the outside (which doesn’t exist for some of them at all), the only home they have in prison is on the “inside” – themselves (and the garden). Reconnecting to their heart through connection to nature allows them to rediscover their humanity, and is an important element of releasing “that which binds them.”
So as much as “home” can be a “place” in our past or present, on a deeper level, its about connection – to ourselves, and those we love, and to those places that lift our spirits and allow us to soar. Home is where the heart is, and over the years, I’ve discovered it can be many places, all at once.