catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 14 :: 2009.07.02 — 2009.07.16


Singing still

I don’t care about pollution
I’m an air-conditioned gypsy
That’s my solution
Watch the police and tax-man miss me
I’m mobile
“Going Mobile” by The Who

Certainly, “going mobile” hasn’t lost its mystique since The Who contributed to the free spirit soundtrack in 1971.  In fact, human history is littered with nomads and wanderers, both restless and reveling, from Adam and Eve through Alexander McCandless.  How many of us could watch the recent film adaptation of John Krakauer’s Into the Wild without feeling at least slightly tempted to leave it all behind for the adventures of placelessness?

And yet, there’s a parallel spirit running in our veins that manifests itself in song and in staying put — not for the sake of the stuff that solidifies the status quo, but for the sake of digging in deep, growing roots through many layers of experience.  Amid the selective excess of the eighties, Nanci Griffith reminded us all of our inherent connection to the land, for richer or poorer, whether we acknowledge it or not:

There’s a book up on the shelf about the dust bowl days
There’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me in the photos on every page
Our children live in the city and they rest upon our shoulders
They don’t want the rain to fall or the weather to get colder
“Trouble in the Fields” by Nanci Griffith

The hero and the heroine of her song are wedded to each other, but also to a difficult soil that did its damnedest to drive them out.  For love, they stay.

For some time, I’ve been drawn to songs that honor place-fulness.  Maybe it began when Rob and I chose our first place for ourselves, transforming Three Rivers, Michigan, from a layover to a destination.  From 2002 until 2006, we planted our perennial intentions, starting a business, dreaming deep and wide.

Then, we had to go.  Our situation had become financially untenable and the Perfect Job called us north to Grand Rapids.  Weeping and driving, we listened:

I am holding half an acre
Torn from a map of Michigan
And folded in this scrap of paper
Is a land I grew in.
“Half an Acre” by Hem

Begin exile.  Watch for grooves in pavement.

Helping the kids out of their coats
Oh wait the babies haven’t been born
Unpacking the bags and setting up
Planting lilacs and buttercups
But in the meantime I’ve got it hard
Second floor living without a yard
“Mushaboom” by Feist

The road between Three Rivers and Grand Rapids is a straight shot ­­— eighty miles and four years long. Ironically, moving away from Three Rivers allowed us to purchase a building there.  37 N. Main Street, of which we became the official stewards in 2007, is not so much a box that only fits a certain size dream, but a jar that is infinitely full even as it’s poured out. When the chaos of a non-profit life feels like a ceiling slowly dropping on my head, I plant imaginary blueberry bushes.  Some day, we will live here again.

And now we’ve drawn a new line on our map of Michigan, south from 37 N. Main to 1008 8th Street.  A bigger jar.  A much bigger jar, as if more infinity were possible. 

I walk along new construction roads
I see that my silhouette is golden, yeah
I know the horizon is bright and motionless
Like an EKG of a dying woman
“Temecula Sunrise” by The Dirty Projectors

For some, mobile is the way to go.  Freedom lies in the absence of constraints — no land, no partnership, no taxes, no kids.  Death lies in new construction, mortgages, two-and-a-half car garages.

Others, however, are able to walk the fine line, allowing property to be space for life-giving possibility, unfolding the potential of self and of community.  Such folks as these are stewards of history and memory, keepers of creatures and air, soil and water, bricks and mortar, and all precious people upon and within.  They provide a place for the road-weary wanderer to come home to; in turn, the golden silhouette of the wanderer’s departure is reminder enough not to get too attached to anything but the simplicity of an eternity best contained in open hands and open doors.

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