Returning to Bear Lake is always a rich homecoming, regardless of whether we are coming back from a week of work or rich days on holiday. The lake views from our porch, the mountain vistas, and the comfort and beauty of our house all contribute a an environment that we are never eager to leave. What luxury to have all the personal amenities one would want coupled with solitude and wildness to enrich our spirits.
Today, I return as I do each time by turning left into the grave drive and looking for hints of change such as uncut blankets of snow or the trace of a moose or bear left in the driveway to puzzle me. First I see the guest cabin on the right, dark and shadowed with its fat gables and full woodshed catching the edge of the truck’s headlights. Just past the cabin the house comes into view where a porch light invites me home. The compact, cottage sized house sits above the yard so one looks up at it and even in the bitterest storm the house is solid and safe looking like the cottage at the base of a storm-swept lighthouse. Today, as often the case this time of year, the wind assaults me as I step out on the driveway. The front patio will be clean and tidy unless the big winds have cleaned the north and west porches and swept the debris around the house to this side. I look to the dog kennel where my dog sleeps, usually undisturbed by my return. If I am lonely, I know that I can call Snape, and he will stick a sleepy nose out into the lighted yard and wag a tag in greeting.
In a few minutes, I am standing on my porch sipping bourbon and toasting my good fortune to live in a place that gives the peace that most people go on vacation to find. This time I am back from visiting family, and I am moved to think that the time we spend with family is a form of going home. Whether we drive the four miles to visit our grandchildren or fly1500 miles to visit Madelyn’s dad, we journey to place ourselves amid those human features of home: relationships, rituals, and people. This is not the same as the bonds of friendships we might have with our neighbors and others in our lives. And, contrary to Facebook philosophers, friends are not the same as family. Regardless of how we might wish it was different, friends are friends and family is family, and at least in my world, the people of family are intimate, more demanding, less fun, and arrive with more luggage than any friend we could imagine. But family and home are inexorably bond together and to us, so we cannot remove them from our life without significant strain on our internal system.
We can in fact imagine perhaps two concepts of home, two ways of viewing a similar bond for there is home as that place where the family gathers and reinforces or mends the bonds of familial relations. In this case, home is less of a place than it is an experience or a gathering. There is also home where the body and soul find peace and oneness with the surroundings, a habitat fitting our psyche’. I can remember places I have lived, and they have all had some semblance of home though they might not hold the ambience of my place at the lake. This is home which is both inspiration and refuge, both shelter and showroom, a center of labor and of rest. They say, home is where the heart is, but it is also true that in the heart is where home is for here one’s center, one’s spirit or Chi’ and here that spirit can come to rest and be the strongest. Here is home. As one who works from home, I find it interesting that at home I do my best work and get my best rest. I can only reflect on my own experience when I say that this relationship with place is not always idyllic and few of us are always content with the flow of energy and joy anywhere twenty-four seven. But if I were to be sad or mad or frustrated, I would prefer here than anywhere else to feel that way.
Like home, family gatherings are not always warm and comforting. In fact, family makes us suffer, but it also make us complete because through family we are connected to our past and to our gene pool. Without people and stories, without family, we are only names on a list without ties with any history. Family grounds us in dna, in tradition, and connections to place and experience. When we sit with family and share stories of back when, of the good ol’ days, of Uncle Charlie and Aunt Lou, we are making ourselves bigger than a single organism, more than just one person. Family makes us immortal. Home makes it worth the trouble.