A Sense of Place

A tree in OaklandMoving has made me think about the multiple places I consider home.

Texas, of course. The whole state, not just Austin (where I went to college and where I live now), Houston (where I was born), or Friendswood (where I spent most of my childhood), but the entire place.

I’m a native Texan. My roots go back for five generations on both sides of my family –which is a long time for Anglos – and are spread all over the state. And Texas has an outsize mythology. A lot of it is nonsense, but it has an effect. There’s no way I can not be Texan.

And there’s no way anybody in Texas can kick me out, no matter how much the right wing idiots that hold power in this state like to think that people with my politics don’t belong. I may have a love/hate relationship with my native state – maybe the right phrase is that I have a lack of illusions about the place – but I’m a real Texan.

Sometimes I explain my relationship to Texas by quoting from that poem by Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man”:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’

I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea of becoming a Californian. A Northern Californian. An Oaklander. I feel connection to Oakland already, but I’m not sure I’m tied to anything else in California yet, despite some backpacking trips and a couple of drives across the state. It’s still new to me.

But there are lots of connections between Texas and California. Lots of Texans moved out there, first during the Dust Bowl and then during World War II. There was work in California.

My father lived in California for a few years when he was a little kid. He loved it. He found coming back to West Texas a rude shock. But he still ended up living in Texas.

Then there’s Washington, DC, where I lived for 28 years. I try to get back regularly. I love the District of Columbia – the city where real people live, not the nation’s capital. I know a lot of neighborhoods there, not just the ones I lived in. I know the best places in the close-in suburbs.

My Aikido dojo is there: Aikido Shobukan Dojo, the headquarters dojo for my teacher. A large place, with many classes a day seven days a week. Morning class – 7 AM class – is still my home, though I’ve been away for almost seven years now.

I’ll always be tied to DC, not just because of the dojo or out of sentiment, but because I kept my cell phone number when I moved. I live in fear that I will get calls at inappropriate hours like 6 AM once I move to California, because people will assume I’m on the East Coast. But I’m not going to change the number, not just out of practicality, but out of sentiment. I like to remember that I lived in DC for a long time.

So there are at least three places I think of as home right now: the place I’m from, the place where I lived for many years, and the place I’m moving to. I don’t think that feeling is going to go away. I never stopped being a Texan in DC, and I haven’t lost my outrage at DC’s lack of political rights since I left there.

I get attached to the places where I find myself. I spent a summer during law school in South Dakota, another summer in Guatemala, a third one in Seattle. All those places have touched me, have become part of who I am.

As I child I traveled a lot in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mexico (“Old” Mexico, as my grandmother always said). I know those places well enough that I found myself made very sad when I realized that Louisiana really is losing ground to the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans won’t always be with us.

Houston might not either, but I won’t miss Houston as much. New Orleans was my first experience of something more exotic than small town life.

I always intended to live in New Mexico, but I’ve never made it. Maybe I will yet. Everytime I pass through it, I remember that I’ve always thought of it as special, unique. A sacred place.

I feel that way about the Black Hills in South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming as well. You go to places like that to recharge yourself, to connect with something larger.

I’m going to miss lots of things about Texas: the Hill Country, the high desert country out in West Texas, the music in Austin. But my sweetheart keeps telling me about the places he wants to show me in California, the places he loves, the ones that speak to him.

I suspect I’m going to end up tied to even more places.

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A Sense of Place — 9 Comments

  1. Once you get through your first quake and don’t want to pack up and leave, you’ll realize it’s home. Oakland is one of the nicest spots in CA, I think. I’d move there if I could. (Though I’d prefer Boulder Creek.)

    • Boulder Creek is lovely. I love interesting small towns. But over the years I have developed a preference for cities, perhaps because I grew up in a rather dull small town. And Oakland is a vibrant, exciting city.

      I’ve already been through one quake: the one that hit Sonoma in August shook Oakland quite well. As soon as it was over I said to my sweetheart, “Are you sure you don’t want to move to Austin?” But …

  2. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your thoughts and feelings on moving. I just realized this morning that I’m in a period of transition myself. Whether that will involve a change in location, I do not know, but it helps put things in perspective to read about your journey.