Seattle blog

Home

As the tires tumble over the first orange and brown leafs on our steep, curved driveway, I look out and behind at my parents house. “We’re on the road to adventure” my mom used to say at the beginning of every childhood road trip or adventure. This is no different, although I’m not as sure where the adventure ends and home begins. This trip has been different from my other returns; full of time reflecting with friends, family. Full of time reinstating old memories into new feelings. This place that sat so clearly as my home is no longer, yet it is woven in me through my perceptions, my feelings, and ideas.

My pondering's during my time here have left me with a clear feeling: home is a fluid, not solid. Regardless if you are moving from continent to continent or living 20 miles from where you are born, your home isn’t constant. People move in and out of it, ideas and jobs and joys and pains come and go, leaving the door open for the next. What stabilizes a home is the rhythm of familiar feelings and worn door handles. The comforts of familiar are at times illusionary, but necessary. We know this, but choose to sustain a cycle that gives back to us a safe place, reliability. Stepping away from the daily patterns and the underlying assumptions about home and what starts to fall off are the material ornaments. It’s not the wood in the house that gives it strength in your mind but the thousands of footsteps you’ve left. You can’t see home, you can’t draw it or write about it, for it is subjective and in constant motion. 

The fluidity of home provides opportunity. If we can open ourselves, hang up our feelings to dry in the air of others, we create space for home to run through. A liquid fills the space it is given, taking the easiest path. Thus homes are made by our own care, bit by bit. It’s not the big moments that keep a home in our minds, just as it’s not the waterfall that sustains a river. The drops of water that feed creeks and streams also feed the crackling autumn fireplaces and consoling arm after a teenage broken heart. A river dries without its tributaries. It may stay like this all summer, only to find a new current come winter. Maybe Washington is my dried creak, maybe not, but the canyon its cut remains.

 

Home is where learning takes place. Where we adventure out, to come back and see what stuck. A place of safety, where gravity rotates our lives slightly slower than the rest of the world, allowing contemplation at a more direct level. Like many things we hold dear – happiness, success, meaning – a home cannot be pursued directly. Buying a big boxed home in Suburbia, USA gives shelter, but that is its only guarantee. For a home is a byproduct, not a production. That is to say when I talk about home it’s not a specific location but a conglomerate of emotions; the full spectrum, no mercy or rosy colored glasses. Home is the launching ground to the big moment, it is the electrical current supplying  light we rely so heavily on. The towering Douglas firs and heavy underbrush, the laid back style and attitudes, the fresh air, that’s home. The smell of bread coming out of the oven, runs along the Cam, long streets of brick houses, the other half of my orange, that’s home. Many things and voices and memories not yet created, that’s home. Home cannot be triangulated, but nourished, it cannot be bought, but brought with patience, it cannot be passive, but made from authentic attention, love. 

Wandering, never lost

For a full gallery of photos from the Olympic National Park, click here

I wrap my arms around the ridged outer bark of a Douglas Fir, barely circumnavigating a 1/3 of the giant. At this moment, in this place, I am a tree hugger; engrossed with the silence of the forest, the breadth of the life, the age of the residents. The fungus and mushrooms at my feet may not be older than a few days or perhaps a few hours. While this tree has towered for hundreds of years, they feed off each other, working in a harmony 'synergy workshops' can only hope to achieve. Two things hit me very quickly when I entered the Olympic National Park. First, this place is part of me, part of my home. Second, this place, and all things wild, fall into balance. Not the balance we use to tight rope walk, but a fundamental motion that drives every ecosystem. Nothing is forced here, nothing is lost here. The fallen logs are not dead; they feed hundreds of organisms after their great fall. Hollowed stumps give shelter to foxes and other little creatures. Moss grows on branches long separated from the tree, and ferns sprout out of just about everything else. Creaks dry up and give rise to temporary fields of shrubs, once again to be washed away when the waters of fall and winter return. Nothing unused passed through, a calibre of balance humans have excluded ourselves from. Nothing in the forest is created that will not to be used by something else. To me, this is beauty in primary colors. The imperfect mechanisms of nature, of humans, is something to behold, not tarnish. The first hour of my hike took me less than a mile down the path. Instead, I was taken by the little details of all that was around me. Of the orchestra of light; of the portrait of the forest.

 

Growing up in Washington state for 20+ years, I took the place for granted. Especially where I grew up, nature is so abundant, it becomes the norm. Similar to a businessman taking the same straight streets of Broadway NY or my own walks across the hallowed buildings of Cambridge. The underlying problem is that the brain is too efficient. Like a river, it strives to take everything as easily as possible. Given time and repetition, to take everything for granted. To free up space for the more important things our ancestors had to deal with us: food, shelter, not dying. For the 21st century? It often leads to more harm than good. Yet I cannot help but see the canyon between Cambridge, New York, and the Olympics. Nature is always changing, humans often discourage change. Wild shifts to the needs of the environment. Our buildings aren’t made to change facades with the seasons, to shift with the weather and be affected by those around them. Walk done Main St, USA today and tomorrow it will be nearly identical. Permanence is a human idea, antithesis to all other components of the natural world. We create concrete, rustless materials, formed to last, not shift. While understandable and necessary part of industry, there is something deep within us that calls for change, that demands it. Take a walk in a truly wild place and tell me otherwise.

 

My curiosity was peaking, and I almost gave up making it to the mountain pass if it were not for some motivation given by a group of older gentlemen who pushed me along. As I started to leave the lush valley floor I noticed that fall that arrived. Bright reds and orange filled the hills to both sides of the path. Soon these leafs would fall and nourish the ground. Soon after the snow will come and cover the nutrients, only for spring to bring them back to life in another plant or in the stomach of a little critter. The New York Businessman see’s different people on his way to work, and I see tourists from different regions of the world in town, but fundamentally our environments are not flexible. The forest is different every year, every season, and so forth. By elevation, by climate, the flora and fauna have adapted, and by these variables they change. Birds migrate, bears hibernate, and spiders move indoors to terrify children. There is something in me that feels stagnant without occasional trips into the wild, that feels stone forming on the edges of my feet, a ballet without motion. Routines become colorless, everyday little problems weigh without perspective. Just one day out this space and I feel lighter, clear. Opening a door I forgot had closed. Maybe it’s a primal nutrient, or just a developed taste, but I can’t establish myself in place that doesn’t allow access to the wild. To the valleys which echo, to silence that surrounds, to wonder abound, to home. 

Straight lines

Note: a gallery of images will be posted from this trip shortly.

The sweat against my back is gluing the cotton shirt to my skin. The afternoon sun is dropped into the deep blue sky. To my right are the old missionary style buildings of the Presidio. The brown grass has a empathetic sign explaining the lack of water due to the continious drought. Straight ahead is the golden gate bridge and high above is a plane flying a giant rainbow banner proudly displaying a love for all message. How much more California can it get? I’m on a run in San Francisco, a place that makes home more expansive for me.

       

 

 

 

My parents both lived in the Bay area during the 70’s and 80’s. It’s where my dad learned how to blow glass, race cars, and fly planes. It’s where my parents met. I’ve been coming here since I was born, making a trip nearly every year. Per usual, we are visiting my Aunt Lynn (or Lolo, coined by 4 year old Jack), who is not related by blood but by decades of friendship established well before my birth. Her house is a favorite place of mine. Most obviously for it's beauty and views of the city and bay, Alcatraz and the golden gate bridge. But more tuned to my eclectic side is her endless supply of knick knacks from around the world. My room in Cambridge has been heavily influenced from wondering trails across the floors of Lolo’s house. Now it seems every trip I take I bring back some little thing or two, bits and pieces that may remind me of what was. Her house is a museum of this things little and unique, a place I’ve explored for many years and continue to find new gems, in the bathroom on a shelf in the shower, in the laundry room behind the soap, in the living room atop a book. One sunny morning this trip I set out a fresh cup of coffee, steam rising to the metal banister of her porch. My bowl was filled with my dad’s famous blackberry cobbler, and my eyes took in the city. I was struck by a Mediterranean mix of the purple flowers rising from her garden, white building faces below and the ocean in the distance. It was a mix of where I was from, where I was familiar, and something I will always take with me: wonder. What was happening out there? What about the uninhabited island over there?  More than that, my sense of wonder inhabits a space past my thoughts where I simply am, and nothing more. As if I am realizing that I am not a wave, but just that drop of change in the ocean.

Sunset view from Lolo's porch

Sunset view from Lolo's porch

There is definitely something comfortable here, even though my familiarity with the street names and neighbourhoods isn't spot it. It’s similar to seeing an old friend, and falling back into conversation. The steep hills, colorful houses, endless little restaurants.

But it’s something more than just being comfortable. Travelling is an indirect path to home. That is, my sense of home is not derived from a single location. When I leave and go somewhere outside my palate of usual habits and formations, little changes happen. They may be tiny strokes against a endless canvas, but I notice them with curiosity. Changes are natural and healthy. Can you think of a single aspect of the cosmos that escapes it? Just as our own sense of self, purpose, happiness, and so forth sway to and fro throughout our lives, so does home. Home is flexible, like the Douglas Firs which cover Western Washington. The majestic evergreens garner their strength not from rigidity, but their roots which give ever so slightly to the forces around them. Doing so in our lives can be difficult, as we often resist what is new, preferring something known and well worn. It is easy to dismiss using old ideas, and hard to let go and accept the new. But that resistance is the antithesis of the natural world, which forms the new through the old, continuously reforming and reusing.  I am not saying to let go of home, actually closer the opposite. Do not let it become stagnant, but a growing painting, building layers by the colors and shapes seen elsewhere. It may be painful at times, and joyful at others, but that’s how it goes; there are no straight lines home.


Photographic memory

A little girl wearing a pink dress runs between a 50 foot steel man, his hammer swinging again and again outside the Seattle Art Museum. She squeals and throws her head back in laughter, running from her little brother and hiding behind the metal sculpture. Whatever else happens in her day that moment will be remembered as blissful. At least the first time she remembers it. Well maybe not even then. Memories remain mainly a mystery, alluding much of neuroscience and psychology, despite many scientists – and probably more pseudoscientists – attempting to grasp the structure of this central piece of the human mind. One thing is certain: we are not record players. No memory is safe, no memory is a perfect memory. If I pull something up from my computer’s memory, it will be identical to the last time I saved the file or image or whathaveyou. But your brain doesn’t work that way. Each time we recall something, be it a nostalgic childhood home, a fight with a loved one or a memorable game, we actively color that memory by recalling it. Thinking that the memory is something outside your mood and current state is over-simplifying the structure of our minds. We are approximation machines, and evolved just so. It’s better to have five routes to the watering hole that may not be perfect but get us there just the same than to remember one route by each blade of grass and shrub along the way.

In essence, even our strongest memories are flexing each time we recall them. If we’re upset, we lay upon our memories this same burden. This can turn a happy memory into a vague disappointment, or a failure into a learning process. Each memory works this way, turning with the winds of our mood to potentially create a unique direction after each recollection. Combine these memory vectors into a larger web or idea, such as a family, or in my case of reflection, home, and you may start to see the tangled mess we wander in every day. But thankfully our nervous systems process most of this information without our conscious acknowledgement. But I feel this now, walking empty streets of Seattle that run with emotion. Seemingly random pieces of information around me start to take weight, like a circling boat crashing against waves it created. I can’t help but try and match my current life to the one I lived here. So many associations and events and happiness and frustrations and so on. In a sense I want to integrate these memories into who I am now, but I feel that unlike the complimentary shapes that make up a puzzle, the human experience isn’t so orderly. I know the Northwest makes up the majority of my experiences, but the tangent of new experiences over the past two years has turned what was so familiar to a slightly different angle. It’s as if I was given a pair of glasses that converts everything in my vision by 10 degrees. After some time we naturally adjust to a change in perception, but it takes time and directed effort.

Yet underneath this coping I'm reminded when I see my old friends and familiar landscapes of how lucky I have been to have a happy childhood, great education, loyal companions. Really, whatever changes have happened in my absence are washed away in light of this. I'm trying to make the most out of my time, taking trips to see friends and family, in a way purposefully pulling out as many old memories as I can. Just because Disney Land or any childhood wonder doesn't have the same magical draw as an adult, it doesn't mean it isn't still a magical place or that same feeling has to die within us. We make that decision and can hold onto that feeling if we choose. It's hard work, especially as life unravels it's mysteries in confusing and confounding ways. But maybe when we create a home for ourselves, we are digging a well of these assorted memories, tying together incomplete ideas and loose ends so when some crack or break, the water never goes dry.

Home?

England, is it home?

England, is it home?

 

"Go go go! You literally have less than a minute" Paloma waves my ticket at me. 

The train to Kings Cross is leaving. As if in a 1940's film, the conductor holds the rail of the train and yells out a last call, whistle in mouth. But the train isn't run by a steam engine and I'm not leaving for the great war, only going home for three weeks. As I jump on , suitcase in tow, sweat building on my forehead, I realise my trip has started. It's not a real train ride nor adventure without a last second dash early in the morning.

I'm starting the travel blog again but this time it's different. I'm travelling to Seattle, Washington area, home. But is it home? I haven't lived with my parents for 7 years, but without a doubt it's the answer to 'where are you from?' My activities won't elicit a daily post, and that's not the point of this trip. Instead, I'll be reflecting on what home feels like from the fringe. Moreover about why we may feel at home regardless of geographic location or any real objective metric.

“Ohh I see, so you live here but you're from Seattle? The Heathrow employee asks as she applies a sticker to my passport.

“Yeah you got it!”

“Oh I see! And which do you like more?”

I laugh, pause and thank her.

 At 35,000 feet, stuck in a hunk of metal circulating my neighbour’s breath, home is a mystery. Is the older lady behind me, engrossed in her Reader’s Digest, at the end of her trip? Did it just start? Or is she just passing through Seattle to somewhere else? That's the beauty of travel, it's all a mystery. The only thing you have in common is that change is coming. The grossly vague but persistent concept of change will be a focus of my writing while I'm here, in parallel with my more long term blog that I'm starting up very soon. 

As my mom’s car drops around the corner, down and round, exiting the spiral ramp of the massive airport parking garage, the first raindrops to hit western Washington soil in several weeks stick to the windshield. What timing I have. Coming into the trip I was reading about wild fires, long droughts, pounding rays and sunburns. How soon my expectations were crushed. High wind storms, near constant clouds and rain have been the climate so far. I’m wearing rain jackets and sweatshirts. Everyone is enjoying the break from the constant heat, and while I’m happy the State isn’t (literally) as on fire as it was, couldn’t one more day have been ok?!? Seriously, there are alot of trees around here and my pale skin was aching for a little sun.

An hour before, as the plane broke through the clouds I jerked my head to oval window beside me. I instantly recognize north Seattle directly below, with the deep blue Puget sound and accompanying islands, peninsulas, and mountains flanking the distance. Something struck me deep and true. It was as close as a human can get to an inherent feeling of familiarity, as a salmon returning to its spawning grounds. It took me by surprise, the zap of emotions, the feeling of nostalgia and excitement. Rushing around Cambridge the last few days kept me distracted enough to give the feeling an extra kick.

It may be that this moment is the closest to a definition of home I get to on the entire trip. It was unspoken and subjective, responsive and immutable. There was no fighting that rush of hormones and neurotransmitters that accompanied seeing Seattle and the surrounding beauty. It was whole and instant. As the plane continued south, I recalled memories from the different landmarks in the city passing below. In the distance I saw a tiny toy boat in a big bath tub, which was the ferry I’ve taken my whole life to get to Seattle.

My airplane perspective made all human things small. Yet seeing the bigger picture can put great meaning onto seemingly minuet things. It was clear to me - surging with the washing machine of emotions and adrenaline only possible after a long day of travel – that what drew me back so instantly were not grand memories. It wasn’t my graduation day from UW that I was reminded of when we went over the campus, but BBQ’s in the gravel yard behind my house, walking home with friends from playing basketball, a slow spring breeze amongst the cherry trees. It was the accumulation of thousands of feelings, a sea of tiny strokes that made up my painting of home. It was rooted in the landscape, born in the palate of blue and green, grey and brown. A full year of distance was but a yarn string to be snipped by the sharpened force of home.