Friday, February 8, 2008

Where Is Your Water?

Photo © Ryan Smith
Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire begins: "This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome - there's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment."

When I was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston in the late 90s, my lyric writing teacher, Pat Patterson, began every semester by asking each of his students where his or her “water” was. He would explain that salmon have a homing device inside their nasal cavity that collects a tiny bead of water from the stream in which they are born. As they make their way to the ocean, then begin the long journey back to spawn in fresh water, this bead allows them to know when they have reached their home waters once again. Though I am not sure as to the scientific evidence of this, I am still drawn to the idea of each human having a “water.”

During the two semesters I took lyric writing with Mr. Patterson, I would invariably say “Mercersburg, Pennsylvania” when asked where my “water” was. At the time, I was dreadfully homesick for my hometown, and the life I had left behind, and these emotions only strengthened my homing instincts toward this place. Since then, I have had the great fortune to add several other locations to my list of “waters.” I am open to the idea of having several, though if I had to pick one, Mercersburg would be it. It is my one true home.

This place holds all the dear memories from my childhood, growing up in the most wonderful family, with siblings I enjoyed playing with (so much so that when we would have a snow day and got to stay home from school, it was the thought of getting to play together all day that made us squeal with delight, not necessarily the snow). My mother would have classical music playing, or my father jazz. The smell of cooking food floated through every cranny of the house. All was right in the world when we were together in our house on California Street. This was before the tough years of college, when I couldn’t understand why I should leave my family who I wanted to spend every moment with, and the town I loved so much. It was before the realization of many big dreams, and enormous responsibilities. It was the simplicity of living that I have sought ever since. It is the reason I returned again and again, and now the place in which I wish to stay, possibly forever. But I had to swim to the sea to know this.

Other locales that are near and dear to my heart?
  • Highland Lake, Warren Center, PA - a magical summer home for my whole family, relatives, and cousins on my mother's side. I have spent whole summers there, or just a week at a time, throughout my life. This place is literally and metaphorically one of my most precious "waters." It's a close second to Mercersburg.
  • Bainbridge, New York – hometown of my Mother, and the place where I continue to spend my Thanksgivings and Christmases. It is the Currier and Ives, picture-perfect image of Yankee winter holidays, and a place I continue to develop a relationship with.
  • Walton, New York – hometown of my Father, where my Grandparents’ big, white house was the muse for big imaginations, lots of baseball games, picking blueberries, and walking through sunny fields and gardens.
  • Moscow, Idaho – where I finally escaped the confines of city life in Boston and experienced for the first time the vast, natural beauty of the Northwest, met wonderful friends, explored my hippie/outdoorsy side, and learned about the many inner workings of the two-year-old (12 of them at a time, actually).
  • Austin, Texas – my second “hometown,” where I still live in my dreams, longing for the excitement of this charming city when life on the “farm” seems slow; where many long-term friendships were formed, and where my relationship with Ryan was given the room it needed to blossom into a marriage.
Of course, I can think of many places I have traveled to or visited that sparked a flame in my heart, but never had a chance to get to know beyond a brief, albeit lovely, encounter. Regardless, I am continually piqued by the instinctual nature and influence of the homing sentiment in our lives.

As Pat Patterson would say, “Where is your water?”


Karl Staib - Your Happiness Matters said...

My "water" is where my wife is. I know it sounds cheesy, but I've never been so comfortable anywhere else. Even my home town leaves much to be desired, it's lack of suburban resources. I still love my hometown of Pipersville, but it only holds my family, it's not the land that brings me happiness.

Sparky said...

man alive, i wish i knew where my water was. i just don't know. austin is the place that i have made home, i have become more kathryn than ever in this town, and i have done it with the help of amazing people in a spectacular city. i think this may be the closest i'll get to water. or at least for now. i've lived in 8 states (FL, LA, CA, MN, RI, IL, OH, TX), 24 or so houses, 12 cities, and even two countries (Spain & Peru).

i guess newport, rhode island (my mom's hometown) is the runner-up because of the nostalgia that it brought my mom and brings me now. i don't know it as well as my mom did, but i do have wonderful memories of how happy my mom was when we lived there. the gorgeous beaches, the small town charm, the canoeing, kite-flying, the scallops and lobsters, the old library and the neighbors who lived behind the old stone wall in my nana's backyard. i barely have any connections there anymore, but it sure is close to my heart.

i look forward to the day when i nestle into a new hometown and make it mine. in the meantime, austin is it. it's holding my water for now. :)

Ricky said...

ok 1) That shot of Mercersburg by Ryan is unfreakinbelieveable and 2) I miss the house at 101 south main. Oh the memories we had there.

Chloe said...

Beautiful post, Larissa! I think being a lyricist definitely comes through in your prose. :)

I don't believe I have found my water yet. I can picture it in my mind, it is Abbey's "cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country". I know it's out there and believe I will know it the moment I see it. This is exciting to me, to know it's out there somewhere waiting for me to find it. I do believe that it is probably in the northeast (ME, NH or VT specifically), though it could be in CO, MT or somewhere in the northwest. NH is where my family is and where I grew up which is the main reason my husband and I are heading back that way this summer and I hope it will be there! I do feel incredibly drawn to Scandanavia, having visited Sweden in 2002... maybe I will have to travel far before I find my water. But that's okay, I know it will wait.

Larissa said...

That is such a nice comment, Karl. I'm sure your wife feels the same way!

Larissa said...

I thought of you, actually, when I wrote this post. I know you and I have had several conversations about this topic. You and I are very different in this regard. But I know you could make any place your water if you wanted to. You fit in so naturally wherever you go!

Larissa said...

I'll tell Ryan you like his shot. I miss 101 S Main as well. We had such good time there, playing ghosts and goblins, etc.

Larissa said...

This is so exciting that you haven't found your water yet but know it's out there. I hope your move to NH this summer is fruitful in many ways, and perhaps you'll discover that place you are looking for. Enjoy the excitement of this possibility!

All the best,

Anonymous said...

i think you know where my water is. that list goes for me as well. this is a great blog! i got a bit of a lump in my throat. ah yes wonderful glorious days of childhood. i miss childhood, and i know you might think i'm still a child but only at heart. :(

Larissa said...

You'll always be a child to me in my heart. That is how I want to remember you - but you are also growing in front of my eyes, and I also know you as a young woman - soon to be an adult.
Love you! And thanks for commenting!

Margey said...

Hi Larissa! My name is Margey and I am one of Emily Peterson's friends in Chicago. I think she told you how much your blog has meant to me (it is one of my "favorites" and I have a link to it on my blog,, but I wanted to let you personally know how much this post has changed my outlook on my life. My life is eerily very similar to yours and I love your observations and how you express them so poetically. I moved home to Chicago about a year and a half ago after living in other parts of the country and world for ten years. It's actually been my most difficult transition when I expected going back to "my water" would be the easiest. If anything, I have learned that my water is really simply a place in my heart and not a physical place. Thank you for your reflections and keep up your wonderful project!

Larissa said...

Hi Margey! Emily did tell me that you have been enjoying my blog. I must say I was humbled by the fact that you were so affected by it. I really appreciate you letting me know and commenting. I too have put your blog on my favorite links and am excited to have made contact with someone I know I have a lot in common with...especially since you're friends with the Divine Miss Em! All the best to you and do keep in touch!

Ricky said...

Larissa, never forget playing Federal Use of the Federal Law in Walton lol. God I'd give anything to go back and be young again and spend summers at the lake and in Walton.