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Living and Writing in the Natural World

Moving (On)

It struck my son Louie early in the process of our helping him and his sis move out of their San Francisco apartment several days ago—I’m never gonna see this place again! As he wandered through the emptying rooms with a camera, he reminded me of myself standing in an empty Civil-war-era farmhouse amongst tobacco fields in North Carolina nearly forty years ago.

Louie and I share a sentimental attachment to place, the habit of forging emotional bonds to places where things have happened to you and those you care about. I suspect I have the trait more strongly than he does, or most do. That old farmhouse in North Carolina, though, would be special for anyone.

Donna and I had brought home our two daughters, Heather and Holly, to that farmhouse. Heather’s first words--Bob-white!--had been uttered in the garden behind the house, amidst constantly calling Bobwhite quail. For two years Heather had wandered in the tobacco fields and gardens around the house, our little nature child. Holly was six months old when we moved, but she had made her presence known, crawling around on quilts on the front porch as we enjoyed freshly-picked strawberries with friends.

But the day came when my mom and dad drove out from Tulsa and we loaded our meager possessions into a trailer behind their Buick. When we had moved into the farmhouse three years earlier, it had a hundred years of wallpaper on its walls and lacked indoor “facilities,” as they say. Don’t even think about heat. Donna and I had worked extraordinarily hard to strip walls, sand floors (and ceilings, which is quite a workout for the arms, holding an industrial grade sander above your head), and convert the breezeway (between the house and a formerly detached room) into a bathroom with flush toilet. We had run a propane line into the front room, at least, for heat.

So the farmhouse we were leaving had a lot of “us” and our labor in it. And of course it had the first years of our little girls’ lives in it, also. Just before mom and dad and us all drove off with our worldly possessions, I wandered back into the house. I stood in the empty, silent front room, where we had slept during Holly’s first months in the winter, it being the only room in the house with heat. This blessed house had become “ours” these three years, and had seen the creation of a family in its space. Another “bob-white” call drifted from the garden out back. My throat began to tighten. (I told you I have a bad case of this attachment to place.)

I knew Heather and Holly were in the back seat of the Buick with my mom and all were eager to go. I breathed deep, said “Thanks” to the house, and walked out the door. We started off, me in our little Volkswagen bug following the Buick and its trailer. Thirty minutes into our 2,500 mile trip to spend the summer in Tulsa before carrying on to California, two-and-a-half year-old Heather looked up at my mom and asked, “Are we there yet, grandma?”

Little Heather was no stranger to adventures on the road. Two winters before, driving through a snow storm in Arkansas in a Christmas trip to Tulsa to see the grandparents, the roof rack I had attached to the top of our VW beetle blew off, scattering suitcases and clothing along a goodly stretch of slushy Arkansas roadway in the middle of the night. An hour later, Donna and six-month-old Heather were joined in the back seat of the car with huge mounds of cold, wet clothing and possessions for the last four hours into Tulsa—the ill-fitted detachable roof rack left beside the snowy road.

I guess it’s good to become attached to places. But definitely it’s necessary to acknowledge the attachment and move bravely on with your life. Life flows, doesn’t it? In the Taoist tradition, the Tao is present everywhere. Everywhere. Though some places are situated such that the Tao is more evident and qi energy flows more strongly in those places, there just isn’t a place without the presence of the Tao and the accompanying flow of qi energy.

In the Taoist tradition, the thing to avoid is getting “stuck” in one place and one time, which means blocking the flow of the Tao. We need to acknowledge how special life at the farmhouse, or life in the San Francisco apartment, was, then move on with life. Open yourself up to new places to be special in your life. Move, and move on.

Which is not to encourage changing domicile for the sake of changing domicile. If you’re in a long-time home and happy there, more power to you. But from the Taoist perspective you’ll be happiest there if you’re incorporating new things into your life there. Raise kids in a home, then welcome the grandkids there with open arms, as often as possible. Convert the back porch from a place for grilling into a space for wood-carving. Replace that huge back yard (or half of it) and its constant need for mowing into a garden to grow flowers and vegetables. Head for the high country and life in a tent when summer hits.

Just don’t get stuck. Life flows, and it blooms when it flows. The Taoist tradition suggests we open ourselves to the flow, embrace it, and explore all the special places and experiences that the world contains. Walk back into the empty farmhouse before you drive away, but utter a “thanks” and then join your loved ones in the Buick and take off. Bon voyage! Are we there yet, grandma?
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