HOMESICK (And that's a *good* thing, Mom!)

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Aug 02, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We are all going crazy.

Well, I suppose I should only speak for myself. The kids are just doing what kids do, siblings particularly - anytime they're a bit bored (read: mom and dad haven't taken them somewhere totally fun or stuck them in front of a video) they figure out how to goad the other until poking leads to kicking leads to screaming. And Joe, today at least, looks like he can handle things OK. We're lucky in that both of us don't usually lose it at the same time.

So, I am going crazy. I am reasonably sure I will be back soon, especially now that I have managed to escape the house and family and am sitting on the banks of Rattlesnake Creek, listening to the rush of crystal clear mountain water. I wish I could walk to a place with water like this back home.

But that's just it, you see. Or maybe you don't, yet. I am only just getting there myself.

I remember back in February when we planned this trip. (Back, that is, when Joe was joyfully skiing every chance he got, and I was dreaming of summer when outings didn't require three layers on every body part.) We had a conversation about how long we should stay. "I want to be there long enough to feel like we really live there," I told Joe.

"OK," he responded, "but it can't be the whole summer. I need to keep my career going with some summer work." (He is a freelance violinist, for anyone who doesn't know.)

We finally decided on five weeks as long enough to feel settled in, short enough to have some summer left when we returned. It was much later - June, to be exact - that Joe decided he could also further his career while vacationing, by organizing a chamber music concert in Missoula. I mention this because it has very much colored the rhythm of our trip - most days Joe has had one rehearsal, sometimes two. Organizing the concert has meant that he has made many more connections out here; it has given me an excuse for taking some time to write as a parallel creative enterprise; and it has also meant that any trip longer than a day needs to be postponed until post-concert, July 18 or later.

The upshot is that we feel we've been in Missoula a long time. And yet, surprisingly to me, it doesn't feel like we live here.

Perhaps it's because our house is barely furnished; with only a bed, a futon, two dressers, a table/chair set and a couch for furniture, we are, as I like to call it, "urban camping." (Oddly, though, when I write those items as a list, they seem like plenty.) Perhaps it's because neither of us is working, and there is no real routine - no daily job, no summer camp (Aislyn signed up for Missoula Children's Theater Cinderella camp, but, not surprisingly for her, bailed after a day), no weekly meetings or classes. But summer in Northampton is not so different from that; Joe and I are both teachers, Ren is too young for camp, and Aislyn wouldn't (and probably shouldn't) do more than a couple of weeks of it.

It is something less tangible. What exactly? I can only come close to it by giving examples. At home I know that the peas are finishing up in the garden, getting tangled and brown and I'd pull them up if there weren't the odd pod left juicy and green. I know the orange cherry tomatoes are probably just getting ripe, and the edible vines we've been training up the side of our deck trellis are probably close to reaching its top. I know that the water at Musante Beach is refreshingly cool and full of children. I know what is in season at the Food Bank Farm and what I would cook tonight if I had been there today to pick up our share. (Pesto, perhaps, with some of their homemade bicycle-powered spelt pasta, and salad with - too late for the Strawberry Vinagrette, probably Chillin' Dillon or some of that ultra-herby stuff they make in midsummer.) I know who is probably playing outside the front door in our cohousing community and whether they're getting along. I know that my children would sleep well tonight in their own beds, even if Ren still needs me next to him for part of the night. I know the sounds of the rabbits and the cats.

Here - well, there are things I know here too, gleaned from a couple short weeks of experience and what I remember. I know what vegetables the Hmong immigrants will be selling at the Missoula Farmer's Market this Saturday - that amazing collection of baked goods, coffee, plant starts, flowers, every imaginable vegetable and an amazing 86% of Missoula's population in attendance. But I don't know exactly how they coax those plants out of the beautiful but dry earth here - how much irrigation it takes, or how fast things will grow, or what pests might assail them. I know there will be crowds at Splash Montana, but one can only stand to absorb so much chlorine, and I have as of yet been too chicken to take little Ren out on the higher-than-usual rivers for inner tube floating. (We may go tomorrow...with him firmly tied to my PFD!) I know which houses in our Lower Rattlesnake neighborhood have children, based on the assortment of plastic and swinging things in the yards, but I don't know the children's names nor ages nor how they'd play with mine.

If we moved here, I would learn, and this place would no doubt begin (again) to feel like home. I am just surprised at how difficult it is to regain that feeling, which I had in abundance ten years ago. I have learned more about my own place since then, settled in to gardening and woods-foraging. A year ago, I saw a book about Montana at the Holyoke Barnes and Noble (not, for the record, a place I frequent) and cried, I missed it so much. Now, coming here makes me yearn not for another family transplant to this most beautiful of cities, but for my own humble (or not so?) homestead in the woods of western Massachusetts.

I asked Aislyn yesterday what she missed about our home. "Nothing," she replied nonchalantly. But that sibling bickering belies her. Not that it doesn't happen at home; of course it does. But home is home. It is comfortable and there are millions of tiny places to relax - into a favorite toy, the pillow fort on the couch, with friends on the rocks just outside, in the strawberry patch. There are places to disappear and places to come together. Perhaps it is the difference between the niches in the wilderness here and in Massachusetts. The country here is wide-open, dramatic, and gorgeous. But it is also open, consisting of only a vertical layer or two of vegetation - small wildflowers, taller grasses, occasionally giant ponderosas with little understory. Our Rocky Hill woods have layer upon layer, tiny mayflowers and wintergreen (Aislyn can identify, and munch on, this one easily) nestled under small shrubs, young trees, finally the towering oaks and hickories.

I think, ultimately, I am learning in my heart what I have told myself ever since I, ambivalently, moved out of Boston to western Massachusetts: that what it takes to make a place home is not finding the exact-right-perfect-match-of-a-place, but relaxing into all that makes that place what it is. I will leave Missoula to be home to its people, and I will go home to my own place. And next time, perhaps I will be content to be a tourist here.
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