> jumping into life.

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More crows here than ravens. Funny the things you don't notice until you've left a place for a while. Manzanitas along the highway; woodpeckers flashed with red. People bristling with defenses. The distinctive thing about the community in Prescott, I think, was that we were on the whole poorly defended against the world. Or perhaps it was only my little group, but I feel like we worked hard to keep ourselves vulnerable, and it showed. Even with my family I feel like I have to break down barriers all the time, or more often like I ought to be putting them up.

It worries me that I feel lonely right now. I fight the urge to fight it, to reach for the phone or something productive to do. I miss that community, and hard. I miss my little park and oh how I miss the people who walked there with me.

We took a walk there together the day before I left, to have the conversation we almost didn't have and which we couldn't have had anywhere else. "I don't think I can come here without thinking of you," I told him from the bench at the top of the hill. "Which is hard because this is the most comforting place I know." He nodded with the helpless expression we'd been trading the whole conversation, the expression that says I know exactly what you mean, and it breaks my heart, too.

Sense of place is dangerous that way. Among the Western Apache, according to my ethnography professor, one way that cultural norms are enforced is through the telling of certain stories. These stories take place in specific locations and have particular morals: a man who treats his wife poorly falls into the creek near Cottonwoods Stand Here and There, and drowns. Don't treat your wife poorly. If you are at a gathering and an elder tells that story and no one looks at you, it is understood that you have been reprimanded; every time you pass that place, you are reminded of the story and the reprimand. You treat your wife better.

That park was a place that caused me to be a better person, because he caused me to be a better person and he is inseparable from the park in my mind. To walk there, or even to drive by and cast my thoughts in its direction, was to be reminded of our story in all its glory and pain. There are few places that powerful for me. Washburn Lake is a story about family, one rocky beach along Asilomar is a story about balance, Rittenhouse Square is a story about friendship, Sycamore Canyon is a story about strength. Most other places are just places: beautiful places, loved places, special places, but in the end just places. Not stories. Not morals.

I worry about my itching feet, that pull to up and leave whenever things get tough. I think part of it comes from a desire to avoid Teaching Places: it will be much easier for me to forget the pain I've wrought and felt if I do not walk it every day. It will perhaps be therefore easier for me to make the same mistakes again. If I don't stay any one place for too long, if I don't invest myself in it and don't learn it in my body and my heart, perhaps I am safe from it. If I fall in love with people only, I can leave the people or they can leave me. If I fall in love with the land only - you should have seen the ocotillo blooming - I can take its picture with me when I go. But when the boundary blurs between my love for him and my love for the fierce new growth of locusts, when I look at the shadowed depth of a canyon and my yearning is for his lips and hands, when I look into his eyes and see oak leaves and maize...

It is startling, in fact, to discover I have so few Teaching Places here. A friend passing through last week wanted to be shown the places I go when I get home to know I am home, and I found myself blank. I know this place with the casual intimacy of any old friend, but our conversations are stilted these days. I miss you; I miss you, too. I still have not walked on the beach.

And I am leaving again, tomorrow. To the mountains for a few days of new joy, and then I'm Going In. The past two years have taught me a lot about cultivating community in my life, with both people and the land. I have a feeling I might find some new Teaching Places in the next four months. I know I've got plenty to learn.

i wrote a lovely response and the internet ate it.


hope you're enjoying the woods. let me know when your pressie arrives.

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