“I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.”
As you know if you've been reading this blog for a while, about this time of year I experience mountain yearning. The place where I was born lies in a river valley deep in the crux of the Great Smoky Mountains. At the time of my birth, it was a tiny hamlet without so much as a hospital. It occupied land that had once been Cherokee territory, and for a time, both Cherokee and white settlers lived there together in peace. My own family, Irish settlers who arrived in the early 1800's, were farmers and later, merchants and school teachers. The family divided loyalties in the Civil War, with some leaving to head north. My branch stayed, and fought, and lost. I was about four years old when we left, but my bones and my cells recognize it as home.
Almost all of us have a sense of place—one spot on the planet that no matter how far we wander, remains our true north star. We migrate back to it like wild birds at significant moments in our lives, and sometimes, just to touch the ground of home. In my mind's eye, I see the Hiwassee River, running shallow and fast over rocks worn smooth with time. And the blue-green ridges of mountains, clouds hanging in the gorges between them. I don't have to go there to see them, because they live in me. I'll bet you have that kind of place etched deep in your heart, too.
It makes sense when you think about it. If you grew up eating and breathing from the soil and the air of one particular place, then you are made of it. But it's more than that; it's the lilt of the speech, the cadence and rhythm of life, the sounds and the tastes. The way people drop their r's and roll their a's sing a lullaby to your ears. We crave to hear, to feel, to see the sounds and shapes of home.
Returning home is as spiritually necessary as a pilgrimage to a holy shrine. I heard an interview with Dion DiMucci yesterday—born and bred in the Bronx, he still has the deep New York accent. His music, which has played on since 1957, started on dirty streets, with musicians so poor they had to beat boxes for drums, and make horn sounds with their mouths. His newly released album sounds just the same as the music he made in the 1960's. The Bronx is where his poetry lies—between the tenements and the bodegas. It's the sound of home.
Returning home is like fitting the very last piece into a jigsaw puzzle you've been working on for years. It's satisfying to the soul. I hope you make your pilgrimage this summer. I know I will.
In the Spirit,