Saturday, July 7, 2012

Stories we tell: Community, Nature and Home

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.
                        "Ithaca" by C V Cavafy

There is an eternal story that shines bright. It is the story of coming home. Poet Constantine Cavafy wrote of Ithaca, that mythic home we all yearn for. We strive to belong.

As we pack our bags to leave Thurston Woods are we are ready to go home? What did this journey teach us? Our stories neatly fall under three major categories: Home, Nature and Community. In each story we have accounts of individuals striving to belong in each of the above domains.

We have stories of homes and homemakers. We exchange stories of owners, renters and developers crafting their abode, thoughtfully decorating the front rooms with careful mouldings; extending the front porch or the dormers beyond their original boundaries. We remember proud homeowners decorating their front rooms and bedrooms with furnishings and mothers surrounding their world with portraits of their families, now dispersed far and wide. We photograph yard ornaments - plastic deer, woodcut flowers and Thurston Woods flags - marking spots that residents love and claim as their own. Home is more than the nuts, bolts, joists and joints that define a shelter. It is a symbolic space of ownership, love, memories and tears. It grounds residents to a piece of land and a lifetime of memories.

Then there is that elusive community residents want to belong. Some fondly tell tales of a past long gone. Streets full of friends. Safe. Familiar. And now lost forever. The tales of loss are tales of past belongings. They are laments of a world that has changed irreversibly. Of friends who are dead, families now dispersed, and neighbors gone. But they are also tales that reflect fear of the other, the unfamiliar, and the unhomely, slowly creeping up the street onto one’s doorstep. They are tales of taming that new neighbor, the young rowdy renter, the loud teenager or alien cultures cluttering the alleyways. These stories remind us that our community changes everyday and we have to constantly remake ourselves in order to belong in this ever-changing world. Many residents told us how their community has transformed from a tight knit neighborhood where one could walk to do their everyday chores into a new world that requires a long car ride in order to get to a friend's house or to Sunday services. Speaking of this new and dispersed community, their stories are punctuated with a wistful nostalgic moment of longing for the times when things were different. But whether these are stories of loss or reunion, discovery and nascent beginnings, they are all accounts of becoming part of a community larger than oneself.  

But we are also part of an even larger world we call home. This world is made of plants, animals, sun, wind, and water. We mow our lawns, keep off the weeds, and tend our kitchen gardens. But the weeds are unrelenting. They spread outside our yards into the sidewalks and back alleys. After an afternoon of heavy thunderstorms we hear streams of rainwater overflowing across the yard into the rivulets along the dip along the alleyways. The distant rainbow marks the green canopy of Havenwoods State forest. Residents walk their dogs in the dog parks and children play in the neighborhood greens. A small plot next to the Agape center is boarded off as a community garden. We are at home in this world of beauty and love, fearful of nature’s might and destructive power, obsessive about our relationship to this huge ecosystem. Nature is not something outside us – it is what we make and remake everyday and it is that larger home where we belong as a community.

As we pack up our measuring tapes and interview recorders we realize that our stay here made us part of Thurston Woods. We belong to this landscape of homes, community and nature. Being part of this world is irreversible.