A sense of being home often settles as dust does. It may land imperceptibly, though its accumulation is gently relentless. One day you may wake up to realize that where you once simply stayed is now where you truly belong. If fortune and choices have both been good, it’s a settling to celebrate. It’s another marker of time’s reliable passage. Time too is gently relentless in its settling and accumulation.
I question the dust on occasion, to inquire if home is still home. Spring cleaning gives a prime opportunity to ask, as new light shines upon winter dust that wasn’t once obvious. After sweeping it away, does what’s underneath still feel like home? It’s a recurrent question, as home is an evolving place. Whether inquiry brings reaffirmation or a compelling cry for change, the question itself is worthy. I celebrate inquiry’s insights.
I think of my own settling, after recent passages and changes. It’s been eleven years since I last left one true home for another. Back then I left a great deal behind that had made a home: seventeen years of friendships, a deep love, a long career, a town that was a comforting nest. But it all was shifting as the dusts of home and time met the mercy of the winds. I needed to come here where my mother had made her home, so she’d be able to stay in her chosen forest until her aging was complete. We needed our own dusts to settle together.
Over a year has already passed since the last time she set foot here, unless you count that her ashes now sit on her roll top desk. In an earthly sense, my caregiving years for her are over—or will be, once the hungry beasts of bureaucracy and taxation are sated. Soon I could leave and go anywhere within reason. But I will stay. My sense of home has settled too.
Why stay? What makes this home true? I ask again as I dust.
Anyone who’s read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams knows that the ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe and everything is simply 42. That is the answer for me too, to the question of what makes this home. It’s been 42 years since I first came to join my mother here for the summer, as she began to craft her log home with her own hands. (Her “chalet,” as her construction journal calls it.) The dust was literal that began to settle on us then, since the windows weren’t in yet, the roof barely finished. There was no running water yet. Electricity was years in the future.
We began to build home together that summer, as much with hikes into the forest as when we sanded stairway railings, installed wiring, or crawled under the floor to hang insulation. Home is much larger than a building. It doesn’t have walls as its true borders. Home is grounded upon open land, infused with true sky. Home is nestled within the love shared there. Home is an experience as much as it is a place. Home is within time itself.
For a few decades, I came and went. I was as migratory as the songbirds, if also as consistent about my timing of arrival. Even when I came to stay eleven years ago, I had deeper roots elsewhere, or so I thought. But after 42 years of history—however intermittent—that history itself has become home. The brief duration of life ensures that I could never build that much new history elsewhere. Time accumulates, but it also disappears.
I look again at the stone coaster on my window sill, which was already in the house when I moved in, left by the neighbors who passed. In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own. That coaster itself slowly became mine, as home did. Its meaning settled too.
By now I’ve seen and lived stories here that are older than many around me have been alive. I have local relationships of that duration. I have enough of an open window into my mother’s history that I understand the web of relationships she built before me in making this her home, with others who are no longer alive. I know their children. It’s becoming a generational home, more than simply a personal one. I wonder how many generations it will take, before it becomes an indigenous home in a new sense.
As the indigenous know well, this land itself is the home that birthed us, and it was here for countless millennia before the first glimmer of our existence. That lengthy view of history reframes my question. What home has made me? I am a part of it, more than it’s a part of me. That also reframes my answer. Home will eventually be in what I will leave for others, so that they too can find themselves home when I have long gone. This forest place is one in which I can uniquely grow home’s legacy, from 42 years of loving roots thus far.
Yet when I pause from spring cleaning to return to where I left eleven years ago, I find myself still home there too. I’m at home on that land, and with the deep friends who remain there. I find that my home has expanded more than it has moved.
I recall a persistent memory from years ago in that town, when I met a group of traveling monks. They’d been continuously on the road for seventeen years, yet seemed as grounded and settled as anyone I’d ever met. I thought they were from the Philippines, but I wasn’t sure. I asked one of the monks: “Where are you from?”
He gently laughed. “I am from here,” he said. “It is all the same place!”
To feel at home wherever we go, to realize that all of us are always at home on earth, is the ultimate arrival. So I let another day of timely dust arrive. That dust itself makes this one shared planet home.