It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home. What does that mean to finally commit to a place, to a people, to a community?
It doesn't mean it's easy, but it does mean you can live with patience, because you're not going to go away. It also means commitment to bear witness, and engaging in 'casserole diplomacy' by sharing food among neighbors, by playing with the children and mending feuds and caring for the sick. These kinds of commitment are real. They are tangible. They are not esoteric or idealistic, but rooted in the bedrock existence of where we choose to maintain our lives.
That way we begin to know the predictability of a place. We anticipate a species long before we see them. We can chart the changes, because we have a memory of cycles and seasons; we gain a capacity for both pleasure and pain, and we find the strength within ourselves and each other to hold these lines.
That's my definition of family. And that's my definition of love.
Terry Tempest Williams
When my eighteen year old self imagined her bright and exotic future— there wasn't a chapter, a mention or even a whiff of small towns, five kids, Northern Wisconsin or a Unimog. Her version of home was a decent Manhattan apartment, a salon full of friends and snappy chatter, some grown-up amber liquid in a lowball glass and stacks of books and New Yorker magazines. Obviously, life had other plans for that eighteen year old and she stayed in Minnesota, went to the U of M and met a guy who worked at the Ediner in the Galleria. Fast forward twelve years and I had one husband, three kids, a Newfie, a red sailboat and a new dream about home.
I get sea sick at the drop of a hat (or the swell of a wave) and slept the entire trip from Duluth to Bayfield in July 2000. Ted planned our week-long trip for months before we set sail and I had no idea what to expect when we made it to Sand Island. My experience with Wisconsin didn't extend much beyond Barron or Polk counties and the thought of islands, ferries and sea caves was fantastical and somewhat unreal. I woke up as we pulled into Justice Bay on Sand Island and I couldn't believe what I was seeing— brownstone cliffs, lighthouses and crystal clear blue water. I felt myself falling in love with the Apostle Islands as we sailed to Bayfield and the deal was sealed when we pulled into the harbor, I knew I was home.
We didn't go back to Duluth that summer and in 2001 we had our very own slip in the Apostle Islands Marina. Over the next six years— we had two more children, two more dogs, a different boat and a house on Rittenhouse Avenue but it was the same every Sunday, we didn't want to leave. In seven short years, Bayfield and the Apostle Islands had become home— the place we dreamed of when we were in Woodbury, waiting for Friday until we could head North again.
Now that I wake up under the pines in my yard every morning, it still feels good. Living in a town of 400 people has its challenges but as Terry Tempest Williams said, 'it doesn't mean it's easy, but it does mean you can live with patience, because you're not going to go away'. The unexpected treasure I discovered when I tethered myself to this patch of earth is that the trees, flowers, lake, waterfalls and creeks are equally tethered and 'living with patience' beside me.
The blessing in finding home, beyond the contentment that accompanies setting down roots, is the ability to mark your life against the predictable and steadfast backdrop of the natural world. I've calibrated my inner compass to the huge white pine in my yard, to the basin of Lost Creek Falls, to Julian Bay on Stockton Island, to the Siskiwit River near Cornucopia and to St Peter's Dome in the Penokees. Last October, I spent my 44th birthday walking down a path I've traveled many times before, through the pines to Lost Creek Falls and into the embrace of running water, cedars, sandstone and birch trees. There is wild comfort in knowing Lost Creek Falls will be flowing long after I'm gone and when my kids want to find the tether that will lead them back to me, it's as simple as a walk though the pines to flowing water among the cedars.
It's not complicated to commit to one place but it is a radical concept, in a world where travel, movement and expansion are the norms, to declare your home is enough. Full of people who will become good friends, landscapes that will become way markers, the sound of waterfalls and wind in the pines that will become birthday songs and seasons that will be marked by where the sun rises and sets on the horizon. In some small way, I'll leave my mark around Bayfield and the most spectacular treasure of all is that my children and grandchildren will know exactly where to look.