Having a Place – EpicPew

Having a Place

I live in a small post-war bedroom community north of Seattle.  We moved here about 25 years ago and have loved our cozy hobbit hole ever since.  It’s a three-bedroom cinder block house with a back yard for growing rambunctious little boys into large lumbering men with hulking bodies carrying around witty, kind faces on big beardy heads.

The jungle gym they clambered around on for two decades is gone now, but there’s a little playgroundy pretend boat for our grand-daughters to play in (“Ahoy! SS Mistopher!  Stand by to cast off!  Right rudder and all ahead full!”).  There’s also a little pit for cozy fires in the evening, perfect for sipping wine in a paper cup and laughing over new jokes and sweet memories.  And there is a shed with ratty old couches and some video games where the kids hang out with friends or seek solitude.  It’s been the scene of campouts and sleepovers and long, lazy summer days.  It’s also the home of our camping gear, and that is redolent with the smells of countless mornings waking up in the woods of the San Juan Islands, and the sound of children’s voices in the forest, and the “three beeeeers” call of olive-sided fly catchers and robins, and early sunlight shafting through the dappled leaves, and dew on the salal.

The lawn is full of dandelions, and perimetered round with apple trees, cherry trees, ivied fences, mountain ash, rhododendron, oak, irises, blueberries, snowball trees and Himalaya blackberry vines. In summer, there is clover which always delights me since it brings bees and bees are signs of joy for me, as is clover. In our little gardeny patches, my wife Janet has planted raspberries and four o’clocks and a peach tree and Queen Anne’s Lace and lupin and tomatoes and strawberries and a couple of artichokes.  In another patch you can find lavender and climatis and dill and annis.

A great alder towers over our house in the front yard, planted some 20 years ago by one of the eager squirrels who live in our yard and spend the winter eating the bird food along with the junkos, bushtits, Stellar’s jays, sparrows, chickadees, pine siskins, starlings, finches, and flickers.

In the house, there is the normal complement of gear and furniture one finds: comfy chairs, a sofa, TV, kitcheny stuff, bedroomy stuff, an old trunk for drinks or feet to rest on.  An aquarium, which has been a fascination of mine since boyhood, old paintings on the wall inherited from The Folks, pictures of the kids, a painting of Our Lady, icons in the bedrooms, Jan’s snug sewing nook in the den, the little cubby hole where the toys for the little girls hide, hanging lanp by the end of the couch where it’s lovely to curl up with a book on a rainy day, and my spot in the bedroom where sit and write.

I love this hobbit hole, my home.  My heart longs for it when I am on the road.  It’s not just a location, it’s a place.  A location is a mere spatial coordinate.  GPS systems give you your location.  But places are charged with meaning.  They are full of memories, loves, hates, joys and pain.

Any location can become a place.  This is the place we first met.  That is the place we used to fish.  That house is built on the location of the place where my old treehouse stood.  Because the treehouse was a place.  The new split-level, which belongs to strangers and means nothing to me, is a mere location.  Places are intimate.  Locations are anonymous.  Even an enormous place–a meadow on the side of Mount Rainier, can become intimate when you take it into yourself by the digestive process called love.  It enters you, becomes a part of you.  That meadow is the place where I kissed my wife on a fine summer day in our new marriage, when we were both young and the world was at our feet.

And one of the placiest places is our home.  It’s no great shakes as an architectural feat.  It’s less valuable than the neighbors’ houses on Zillow.  But it has something they don’t: encounter with the ones I love.  My wife, my children, my friends, God.  Christmases, birthdays, Easters, Thanksgivings, songs, fights, embraces, homecomings, and deaths pile up on the carpet like leaves in an ancient forest in a home especially.Places are where encounter happens.  Locations are just numbers on a graph.

That is why we have always set apart locations and turned them into places by naming them.  When Isaac had an encounter with God in his dream he turned the location where it happened into a place by naming it Bethel (Gen 28:19).  Something like this lies behind every place name in the world.  Something or someone was encountered there and it stopped being a location and started being a place.  It’s why people so often name their homes: Tara, Beaconsfield, Bag End, Chez Shea.

One of the great blessings of a sense of place is that you find you do not require more places.  You are content with your little spot on earth God gave you.  Scripture warns:

Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone
in the midst of the land. (Is 5:8).

The itch to merely acquire more locations as a magpie collects shiny things is, like the itch to possess more stuff merely to have more stuff, is a sign of an inner emptiness.  It is the mark of somebody seeking encounter, and not finding it.  That is why the doom announced by the prophet is that the greedy land hoarder and builder of empires shall be made to dwell alone.  Unsatisfied with what he has, he crowds out community in his greed and drives away the very neighbors that could, were he a different kind of man, be his friends, lover, or family.  The joy of having a your own small place is that you do not need all locations to be yours.  You can savor your home, your secret woodland trail, your Pooh thotful spot, and leave others to their places as well.  Thanks be to God for the gift of places.