Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where Have You Been?

Why thank you for asking, Kind Reader.

I've been in an existential fog.

Well, there, and North Carolina.

Okay: I admit, I was only in North Carolina for a long weekend, but the ocean sweeps into your soul, turns off your brain, and makes you think of brilliant blue and tawny sand for a week. The ocean, and the sand in your suitcase.

I was in a wedding, a blissful ceremony of matrimonial joy by the ocean as the sun was setting. Idyllic. Sob-inducing. Beautiful. Sparkling. Sacred. Barefoot.

Thank you, Emily, for encouraging us to go barefoot. Squishing sand between my toes during the ceremony was delightful. 

Waves crashing, gulls squawking, pelicans flying in air force-like formation, skimming the water's surface. Weird seaweed washed ashore, rubbery and tubular. Spare jellyfish tentacles, ribbed shells, decades-old tin cans floating up from the ocean's belly in a delayed sea burp. 

I get emotional and misty-eyed at the ocean. I feel at home. Perhaps my ancestors in Scotland lived near the sea; perhaps my English Cornwall roots are emerging (lots of "Glasses" in Cornwall back in the day). Ocean wind whipping my hair against my face gives me chills, especially if the sky is overcast and stormy. I first discovered the thrill of grey sky over blue water on the edge of Lake Michigan, surprised to find that I preferred the Great Lake stormy to sunny. When I first met the ocean in my adult memory, it was winter. Steel grey and turbulent, I fell in love. When I flew over the ocean and viewed it from the Scottish shore of the Isle of Skye, I felt I'd come home. My mind saw a woman like me, hundreds of years ago, standing on the shore looking out over the ocean, envisioning what rested beyond. I felt like whispering, "I'm home. I came back. I didn't forget."

Perhaps I breathe in the swirling water and furious clouds deeply because I'm not a meteorologist who analyzes their movements, or a sailor who plumbs their depths for safe passage. I suspect it's more that somewhere, in my cultural memory, is the safe feeling of being at home near the water's edge - not so much in tropical climates of humidity and vacationers, but on the chillier borders of toughened Anglo-Saxon territory.

Where have you been? I've been to the ocean, the same sea European explorers sailed, the same sea that devoured the Titanic, the same sea that bumps up against the cliffs of my ancestors' homeland, so many miles away. The driving ocean always makes me homesick; not for the ripe green fields of central Indiana, or for the sandy, forrested soil of Michigan; but for the land from which my people came: Scotland, and England. I know - it's ironic, with the still deeply held prejudices between many of the two nations, that I should yearn for both quarreling relatives. Truthfully, I feel most at home in Scotland. Maybe it's my red hair.

Where have you been? Have you ever visited another nation, only to find yourself sensing you'd gone home when you arrived there, and were slightly transplanted when you returned to your residence? 

I heard a story once of an African-American couple who traced their geneaology to a particular portion of an African nation. They decided to travel there; and lo and behold, things they thought were particular to them - tastes, idiosyncrasies, preferences - that they had thought were individual, turned out to be cultural. Not cultural in their lives in the U.S. - cultural in their particular heritage, from centuries back.

This is different than simply liking a place you've visited. It is deeper, more compelling, less rational. 

My mother tells an anecdote of the first time I heard bagpipes - a toddler in a stroller at a parade, hardly the age of child to enjoy the deafening, discordant strain and screech of bagpipes, right? Wrong. I stood up in my stroller, bounced up and down, waved my arms excitedly.

I still feel called to action when I hear bagpipes, sometimes even feeling the corners of my eyes sting in inexplicable emotion. Reverence, respect, and an impulse to arm myself all compete within.

And this started long before Mel Gibson's "Braveheart."

Where have you been? I hope you find your homeland soon, physical or eternal.


Bob said...

We didn't get to the Highland Festival this weekend, as I had to work until 4 pm Saturday, then went back up to Charlevoix to let Tyler spend the night with his mom, then came back this afternoon. I'll have to put my Bagpipe music on and close my eyes, transporting myself back to that land of caber tossing, sword dances and pipe and drum corps.

Carrie said...

You know, that's weird, because I feel that way about state of Washington. Why? I have no idea, but from the first time we went, to the third time, I felt like I was home.

It does make me wonder if I would feel the same way about Scotland or England. Hmm.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you're back with a story of fog and bagpipes. One question, why don't you ever respond to comments? Maybe you don't have time . .. or been stalked by a eager commentator? My fav writers are the ones who occasionally let me know that blogs are more than just reading, but shared writing. Blessings.

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

Hi Laurie!
Thanks for following The Couch. I'm glad you enjoy it.
Occasionally, I do chime in with the comment section. I haven't really thought about why I don't do it more. I think a lot of it is a self-conscious impulse, like not wanting to look like I just like the sound of my own voice, so to speak. I want people to feel free to express their thoughts and opinions, and I feel like I get a whole post to do that and don't want to be annoying and butt in on what I hope you feel is your space to say whatever you want.
That, and the time thing :)
But I do read the comments and enjoy the extended interactions. Maybe I'll try commenting more and see if I like it.

Bob said...

I think commenting on you own blog is a good thing, could be a place to add those thoughts that may have come 2 hours later.--dad