For days now I have wandered Port Townsend’s long empty beach, fascinated by the salt rimed grasses with their lance sharp leaves cutting through the sand, the calligraphy of seal prints that tell the story of late night forages for food, and the twisted, sea bleached driftwood that has traveled, maybe as far as I have, from where it grew.
Everything is new to me here. I don’t know the names of the shells that lie wave broken on the beach or the lifecycles of the creatures that called them home. Every walk is an adventure and my pockets bulge with bits of sea glass, the occasional half shell still in one piece and iridescent with pale green and blue luster, and whatever bits of floatsum and jetsum that catches my eye. I will make a little arrangement on my desk so that I can appreciate them as I work. It is part of the nesting process I suppose, this urge to create a home, however temporary, in the place you find yourself.
But like the crab, who waves a dispirited claw at me, I am still very conscious of the fact that this is not my home ground. I will always feel “out of place” by the sea. For ten years I lived in Tacoma, happy enough with my family and friends and job, but deep down inside there was a longing, a longing made more intense by the endless grey months of rain, to get back to the mountains where I grew up. To get back to the snow. To get back to brown hills that were not clogged with undergrowth so thick it felt threatening sometimes.
I think everyone has a landscape where they feel as if they have come home. Sometimes it is the place where they grew up, but sometimes they must search until they find that place that sings to their soul. My friend Natasha grew up in London, but inexplicably feels bound to the mountains of Montana. She came, as John Denver said in a song, “home to place I’d never been before.”
My husband, on the other hand grew up by the sea, and after we moved to Montana, he must have felt the same longing I had, but instead it was for rhythm of tides and the smell of briny air and the endless expanse of water where he could roam free in his boat . I am amazed in the generosity of his spirit that he was able to leave the seascape he loves so much, and to be satisfied with no more than regular visits back. Perhaps when we first meet someone we should ask, not what their sign is, but what their landscape is. What is your landscape?