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"A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars" -W. Whitman
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Date:2010-05-23 21:16
Subject:Staying Put
Mood: contemplative

So, here's my current dilemma: as part of my new job (which I am LOVING), I am contractually limited in what I can write about in this journal. I mean this literally. I spent a lunch break recently reading through the page long clause of my contract that outlines what I can and cannot blog about. Technically speaking, I'm not sure I even should have said I love my job, which I'm more or less not supposed to write about. That's a pity because I'm so excited by the things I am getting to do I could talk about it endlessly--there are so many cool things that happened Friday alone I could write about them endlessly. Also, it seems I'm not supposed to write about things that potentially I could be writing about for the publication itself. I totally understand why this needs to be, but as the magazine itself is about sustainability, healthy living, and good food I am feeling the constraints a bit. I think it is going to take me a bit to think about how to retool this journal... which is itself funny to think about, since so much of what I write about here tends just to be what's on my mind, and so much of that happens to coincide with the kinds of things that end up in this magazine. It's easy to see why I was hired and why it is proving to be a good fit, but a bit of a blow, alas, to this space. Well, it will be an interesting transformation.

One of the things I can write about is that I recently dug up Scott Russell Sanders' essay "Settling Down." It is a beautiful piece of writing that I have thought of time and again. In it, he says "claims for the virtues of shifting ground are familiar and seductive to Americans, this nation of restless movers," but then asserts there are social and environmental arguments to be made for committing your life to a single place. He goes on to say, "If you say put, your place may become a holy center, not because it gives you special access to the divine, but because in your stillness you hear what might be heard anywhere. All there there is to see can be seen from anywhere in the universe, if you know how to look; and the influence of the entire universe converges on every spot." I say I have thought of this essay often and that is true, most often because I have for so long been a mover, I have often wondered what I didn't see, what I didn't know, about the places I lived by virtue of my awareness that I was just passing through. Sanders argues that you can't know what has changed in a place over time if your time there has been limited, and this is perhaps one of the reasons Americans can so easily turn a blind eye to the development and redevelopment of the land surrounding their homes. If you don't remember it as formerly being Pretty Prairie Berry Farm, what's it to you that it's now a strip mall? I can see the point he is making, though I'm not entirely sold on it. I think I have often been quite aware of my surroundings and even the recent changes to them in part because I was aware of my own transience in that landscape. In effect, I felt some kinship with that strip mall: something planted there from someplace else that would itself one day be supplanted. But what endured in landscapes often eluded me.

Now I find I am thinking about this essay from the other point of view, as someone who has lived someplace awhile (laughable, I know, that three years could qualify as "awhile" in my life, but there is it). Things have happened here that have not in other places I've lived: people I have come to know have died, others have been born, our neighbor this very day graduated from high school (and since she's going to Michigan Tech, Jamie and I gave her a copy of Sufjan Stevens' "Greetings from Michigan"), there are plant cycles and migration patterns I have come to know enough as to use them to pace my own life. I think there is real merit to Sanders idea that all there is to be seen can be seen from any one place; what I find myself wondering is whether I would have developed the ability to see it if I had never gone wandering. It is certainly true that I have also known people who have lacked the ability to think beyond their immediate surroundings. Because I have been elsewhere, I am always aware of the places beyond this one. Everyplace I am casts two shadows: what it is, and what it is not. But then I have known people who have also been more keenly attuned than I, and they have not roamed far from where they were planted. Maybe in the end it is enough to appreciate Sanders' argument that "committing yourself to a place does not guarantee that you will become wise, but neither does it guarantee that you will become parochial."

Jamie and I paid a visit today to a garden plot a friend is graciously sharing with us. It is on a hill overlooking the Mississippi; it is also a single block east of where we first lived when we moved here. It is so funny to me, given all the walks I took those first months, that I wouldn't have noticed this community garden plot, or if I did, I didn't pay it any special attention, such that working in it now feels like rediscovering that neighborhood. I have to say that having lived here longer than anywhere else (save New York) as an adult, I love that this place could still have such surprises to offer. I could sit on that hill all day watching barges go up and down the river, trains across it, cars and pedestrians passing by, and wonder what it means, all this commotion. And how does it relate to this single spot, where I have put in a row of cabbages, where I myself think about rooting down?

"I am a wandering girl,/My heart is practiced in longing," writes the poet Kadya Molodowsky. What practices the heart that is settled, I wonder. Is that a poem, improbably, that I am to write?

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