I don’t know if this is the most beautiful place in the world or if it is my most favourite. I do know that it is the place that has loved me the longest. My grandparents bought this piece of land 68 years ago and since, built two cottages on it, had 11 children to make it a proper circus, and passed it on as a place to call our own. Now, the cottage is owned in 11 shares and while our family remains close, I have lost count of our numbers that use it on a yearly basis.
I have also lost count of the number of times I have moved cities, quit jobs, changed roommates and houses, and left the country. But, through all this and for my own life time, the cottage has always been a place for me to return to. While being here always invokes a certain amount of calm and I often refer to it as ‘my longest home’, it is more than that. If I gave you a list of why I love this place, it would be endless.
Curled up in a chair in the corner of the main room where I could hear the needed rain hit the deck and tear at the leaves of the trees, I sat reading Rebecca Solnit’s, The Faraway Nearby, described on the front cover as “A deeply moving account of why we create”. She writes that we often talk about our love for places, “but seldom of how the places love us back, of what they give us. They give us continuity, something to return to, and offer a familiarity that allows some portion of our own lives to remain connected and coherent.”
These places where we go time and time again at different points in our life remind us that life is bigger than whatever we might be fixated on in that moment. They teach us that life is in flux. Even though I don’t remember, I first came here when I was one month old. I must have smelled the cool newness of Spring and been held or coo-cooed at by aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. Later, I came here to dig great moats in the beach relentlessly filling them up with water that would continue to seep out into the ground below. I came here to learn to swim, to catch frogs, to get lost on one of the many trails through the National Park (I still can’t find my way around here), to forget what day it was, to be given a wide open space that showered me with the sounds of water gently lapping on the shore of the rocks, and to steep me in a familiar smell that is made up of sun and living things.
While life is in flux, we find our cornerstones in places like this. Places that are endlessly generous to us by remaining, for the most part, just where we left them. Of course, places are subject to change too. My son might never find a salamander under a rock in the back woods, the lake bottom is coated in zebra mussels, and my grandparents are no longer here. We are lucky to have had this little piece of the world for so long and who knows how long we can hold onto it. We will certainly try.
There are other places too. Far off ones that embrace us for fleeting moments, ones that will never hold us in the same way again. Traveling to somewhere we have never been can remind us how to fall in love. Even if terrifying, they force us to open up and leave our reference points behind, to turn off our autopilot, to invite a certain amount awe. New places and the places that have loved us longest can open up our perspective on the familiar, the day-to-day, the places we are most at home and familiar with.
And then, when we come back to whatever we call home, we are still left with the residue of that place, that has given us space in our hearts if only as a reminder that life is bigger than this. We might find a greater appreciation for the places that know our names, that put us to sleep most soundly, and who will still love us the same even if we forget, sometimes, to love them back.