A Sense of Home
My childhood home, painted by my artist father, Ken Phillips
It begins with my beloved childhood home, the little, brown-shingled house which my father and grandfathers and uncles had built in the heart of a small, 3-acre woods. It was the centre of my world, and I loved it fiercely–the wind travelling, travelling through the hemlocks, and up to the nearby twin guardian pines, and ending at the white oak that pressed up against my bedroom window. Inside there were the walls of books, the giant easels with my parents’ paintings, a piano, an organ, cymbals, flutes, wind chimes–a house surrounded by trees and inside filled with art and music and love.
After I started school, (always a prison for me), there came a day when I understood for the first time just how much that house meant to me. I was swept by an unexpected wild homesickness, which made me run away from the playground and pelt all the way home. “Home. Oh home,” I sobbed, my lungs burning as I pounded the miles up the hills and turned on rubbery legs into the beloved, tree-sheltered driveway, stumbled down the flagstone stairs and burst through the heavy door to be greeted by my startled parents. And the house, the only place where life made sense to me, gripped me and held me tight.
It would be a long time after I left to go to university, married, and followed my husband Barry from town to town, before he and I and our two small boys found our next true home, the supervisor’s house at Foley Mountain.
Sometimes now when I can’t sleep, I let myself go back there –memory upon memory, laid on, like the children’s game of “pile up hands”. There was “the long and winding road” from the park gate, past the many beloved trees, the three yellow birches rising from a vernal pool, the hollow pine tree, once home to wild bees, the spreading oaks, the shagbark hickories, the secret place where the tiny wild orchard still hung on in spite of the encroaching pine trees. In memory I walk past the boys’ skating pond, past the river of wild irises winding through the lowland in June, meet the Blandings turtle heading up to lay her eggs in her customary place, on to the old farmhouse, sheltered by two immense cottonwoods. “A happy house” people told us when we first moved in.
Looking out on a wintry day, my homemade bread cooling in the kitchen, I would see the deer tribe walking single file across the fields. Or, following the chain of ponds on my snowshoes, I would clatter across the wind-swept ice to scramble up on one of the massive lodges, listening to the beavers’ intimate talk in their watery world beneath me. And then I would snowshoe on and on, deep into the heart of the park to my favourite grove of hidden shagbark hickories.
I knew every single foot of the 800 wild acres, or so it seemed. I knew them by heart. And I loved them passionately.
And now there is Singing Meadow, a dream come to life, our own house which we designed and had built on our own land after Barry retired from Foley Mountain.
After Barry died, I turned to the shelter of Singing Meadow, this precious home we had created together. And it fit me like a glove. Sunlight, starlight, the dancing flames of my fire, the bedroom, my castle, with tall windows looking far over the valley, my writing room, walled with treasured books, the everchanging host of birds, the loons calling from the nearby lake, the ospreys keening, mounting so high on the valley’s thermals, the blowing fields of summer, the vista of drifting snow sweeping across the valley, the everchanging wind songs in dense leaves or in bare branches, now setting the radiant leaves of autumn swirling down around me.
As my life has unfolded, I am surprised to find that my idea of home has evolved too. Perhaps home does not need to involve place at all.
After I married, I thought of my husband Barry as my home. Wherever we were, he was my own true home. But, of course, since he died I have been challenged to search further.
As I age, I am learning to accept that, as Frost observed, Nothing Gold Can Stay. And so, while I face into this necessary lesson, I find this is a time when I am enriched by the depths of my own self. Maybe I myself am enough wherever I go.
Only wait. As I sit watching the last yellow leaves spinning down around me, now I know in my heart that there is more. No longer a place, or even a person, instead, at last, my home will be in Spirit.