The following is the first in a series of meditations on place:
I've always been able to recognize the places that move me: the beach house where I've spent barefoot summers since before I could walk, the creek in my backyard at home. I've spent my life seeking, exploring, and immersing myself in such settings; but it wasn't until a family rental house in Florida that I understood why.
When we unlocked the door, I instantly felt at home. The kitchen table was located only feet from the front door like in cabins I had read about in the Little House on the Prairie books in younger years. It was an honest house because it did not hide the table in a cubby room, but presented it as one should, at the center of life. As I traveled deeper into the space, the strength of the house hummed and came alive. Beyond the table, in the same room, warm-colored couches and overstuffed chairs gathered together in front of a fireplace. Their intimate positioning was reminiscent of long talks over tea and family reading parties. The wood walls and floors framed the scene, with rings and veins still evident in their boards. I related to the house because it did not hide itself under a paper or white-washed veneer. Instead, it possessed a noble and basic beauty in its stains, like an old woman who bears her wrinkles with pride.
It was dark by the time we had unloaded the car and settled into the house. The wind pushed outside in wet gusts across the water, making the house seem warm and safe. Yellow lamplight turned the walls in the room to honey. While my brother and sister played Poker on the floor and my parents moved between the bedrooms, I surveyed the scene in cross-legged repose from the kitchen table. My hair was still damp from the shower as I cuddled in my navy sweatshirt and sweatpants and pondered the clean and simple of the world. With a glass of water at my elbow, I opened the thick spiral in front of me, trying to keep the paper binding from becoming soft as I found my place.
On the first night in the house, I withdrew from the festivities. I observed, not as an outsider, but as someone who was more inside of the day, people, house, and emotions than anyone could have been merely by physical location. I wrote about it all. I put down how I had done ballet stretches in front of the darkened glass door and seen my reflection in the moonlit waves. I wrote about the feeling I got from being so close to nature and the simple truths that seemed to reverberate from the wooden ceiling beams. I discovered that living in the house was like spending time with a best friend or crawling into a favorite t-shirt. I saw myself in the house's layout, structure, and location and came to understand that my comfort in the space really represented my comfort with myself.
6 years ago