The place where one lives permanently especially as a member of a family or household is the definition of home according to uncle google. I think home has been found. My partner and I are pushing two decades together. We moved into and out of many apartments and houses across the years. We embraced this strangely peripatetic lifestyle, moving every year or two, for school then work then school again. Through the moves we found local watering holes and friendships and the quirky inner workings of a city that make so many places special, but we never really settled. From one state to another our moves pushed westward, like so many explorers and travelers before us.
This last August, after driving through the night and humidity of the central mid-west, day broke on a barren landscape. Hues and shades of gray and blue surrounded our U-Haul. The sun didn’t crack through the distant clouds, but the colors of a foreign land bloomed in the early light. The orange of the truck’s paint and the yellow stripes on the road complimented the blue-indigo of our first, western Nebraska sky.
The next few days, weeks, and months filled in quickly. Orientations and classes and students and grading and yet another round of friendship-making swirled into the shape of a fall semester. Winter break blinked away and now another semester is almost at its end. It is the way of things when you move to a new place. Time tends to accelerate. Every day has new experiences and sights and sounds and for some reason time speeds up as we catch up to speed in a new place.
Why does my experience of place matter? It matters because as teachers we are connected to our students and our colleagues for an intense stretch of months at a time. Then, after a break, we do it all over again. And again. And again. Place is more than the backdrop of a town or a region. Place includes the people, so the dictionary’s definition of home seems to balance all the things just right; home is a place where one lives permanently especially as a member of a family. There is no mention of a structure, per se. Home is a place for family.
Higher learning institutions are home to many young people for the first few years of their adult lives, and this home is vibrant and creative. It is combatant and restrictive. It is loving and difficult. It is all these things combined because we humans are emotional beings, and we seek out comfort and place and belonging.
Every time my partner and I move to a new town or state, a part of me misses my students the most. Although we are not quite one year here in Chadron, I feel something new teasing its way into my thoughts.
We’re home, I think.
How unpredictable. How improbable. This frontier and remote place may not be for everyone. The rugged pine ridge and the long flats of grassland reflect temperamental patterns, just like the many members of a family, in a beautiful display of solitude mixed with weather, but it is the people more than the landscape that have got me thinking about being settled, about being home, for the first time in my adult life.