Where I Come From

A lot of people blog about where they've been, where they're going, and what they're doing, but what about where you come from? I mean, where you really come from, not just the name of a town or a state or a country or the college that you went to. Origins have always fascinated me - I like the first Lord of the Rings the most, and Batman Begins, and even the first part of Captain America til it went totally shit about 2/3 of the way through. 

In fact, back at the advent of Tumblr I tried my hand at curating a submission-requiring concept called I Grew Up Here - the idea being for real people to submit real pictures of their childhood homes and neighborhoods. Because I can easily Google image search Pittsburgh or Spokane or whatever town or suburb you're from. It's easy to find out what everyone already knows and has already seen.

But what about the other stuff? The smaller stuff? The stuff that really makes people who they are? The cul-de-sacs and dead end streets, the trailer homes and mini mansions, the public school bus stops and the backyard swing sets. These things are reserved for those who lived them and know them and probably never thought twice about them; never thought they were interesting, especially, to anyone on the outside.

Maybe it's privileged information reserved for a close few. Or maybe it's worth sharing.

I go back to where I grew up a few times a year, and in a lot of ways, it breaks my heart - how very much the same it is, and how very different I am. I was at home this past weekend for Memorial Day, and went in the backyard on a quest to capture all the small things I regularly ignore or don't even bother seeing. These little things that make up the whole, bigger picture that has so much to do with who I am and how I am.

There's what appears to be just a pile of sticks in the middle of the backyard. It's actually a fire pit where we'd sit around and cook hot dogs and make s'mores in summer, and light the ends of sticks on fire and wave them around recklessly til someone got nearly-burnt. We'd use the charred ends to write our names on the wooden "jungle gym" that used to be in the corner of the yard; "jungle gym" being a kind word for what would be more accurately described as a structurally dubious splinter and tetanus trap.

The backyard smells like being a kid, and catching creatures. Finding a toad was almost guaranteed in spring or summer, with newts and salamanders being a little harder to come by. You'd have to turn over a lot of rocks, but sometimes you'd get lucky. Yesterday I stood silently in thought, taking in that smell, and realized that if you wait long enough, and are still enough, the creatures will come to you. 

Ferns like this are everywhere. They were never special to me. But now that I'm gone from here, and nature requires a special trip, they have a renewed exoticism about them, and remind me of prehistoric forests bigger than my backyard. The ferns will outlast us all.

This is the other plant life that never seemed special or extraordinary when I was walking through it or stepping over it to look at bigger better things, but it has always been here and I hope it always will be here. It smells like home and it looks like home, and I don't know if I'd even recognize it if I saw it anywhere else. Even though I absolutely took them for granted, I cannot live a life without green things.

The backyard butts up against a state park, Gunpowder Falls State Park, and if you walk straight back long enough (truly not for very long at all) you will find the Gunpowder River. Before you reach it, however, you'll find this sea of leaves, this swamp that I always thought was kind of fantastic and weird and wonderful. It's all skunk cabbage though, and if you trample through it, it'll stink. When I was little I considered gathering it up and stuffing it into my brother's pillowcase when he was mean to me, but I never  had the follow through to actually do it. 

This is a pile of wood. Nothing too special about that, but it keeps our fireplace going in winter.

This is the house that I grew up in, at the top of the steep backyard but below the road, strangely set upon an incline of a ridge. It looks small from down here at the edge of the woods, and maybe it is. It's always been yellow with brown shutters. The window on the top right of the back of the house is to my childhood bedroom. The basement is largely above ground, and manages to flood sometimes, since it's at the bottom of a hill.

The trees here are very, very tall, and even in moderate winds tend to sway quite visibly. I remember being a kid and looking out the living room windows to the backyard and seeing a thunderstorm roll in, dark ominous clouds building up and wind gathering strength, alternately scarily quiet or howlingly loud, being absolutely sure I'd see one of those trees snap and fall directly toward me and have no way avoid certain doom. In all my life though, through blizzards and hurricanes, none have fallen on our house. I hope I didn't just jinx it.

I've lived in New York City for nearly as long as I lived in this house, but it still is - and always will be - home.