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