The Call to Home

I’ve recently come home, returning to the place where I grew up and the landscape that has called to me from the moment I left almost eight years ago. Without my knowing, it wrapped itself around me, filling me up inside and tethering me to this earth. No matter how far I ventured, I could never find my balance anywhere new, for how is it possible to put down roots when your spirit has already made its home someplace else?

I guess this happened long ago, but it took me a while to understand the source of the longing and restlessness that followed me for years. Where I grew up, the sky is so giant you sometimes feel it might swallow you up whole, and come darkness, you’re confronted by your own minuteness under its roof of brightly burning stars. It’s a landscape of four seasons – something that continues to be one of my favourite things about the place – the light, the flowers, the trees in the streets and the misty grey mornings are in a constant dialogue with you as they shift from one month to the next. It’s a small town in the sense that less than 10,000 people live there and everyone seems to know everyone, even if that familiarity is only by three degrees of separation.

For some reason or another, there’s a tacit understanding that young people need to leave small towns, even if only to return again later. So, knowing nothing else, that’s what I did as soon as I had the chance. Raw in my youth, I was off. I was going to see the world, meet new people, make my life elsewhere! I took myself to Sydney, via way of Tanzania, Mandeville and India, choosing to live in obscure and out of the way places and venturing there always alone. I was on a search to understand who I was, what kind of person I wanted to be and where I fit in. With each new environment, I would think to myself, surely here, in this place, I’ll finally feel a connection to something familiar.

Yet try as I might, something always felt… off. No matter how wonderful the cultures I was living amongst or how awe-inspiring my experiences, nowhere ever really felt like home. With the exception that is, of when I’d make the journey back to my small-town life for holidays.

Staring down from the airplane window at the landscape below me as it changed from cityscape to rural countryside, I’d feel a breath release that I never even knew I’d been holding.

Reading Freya Latona’s recent essay, I like how she talked about the pull of the treechange – it feels poignant to me because where my parents live is on top of a hill overlooking the town and woven all through the yard and the bordering paddocks are towering gumtrees. There are two that stand like gatekeepers at the top of the dirt road leading to the house and every time I pass beneath their canopy above I feel the familiar relief of coming home. I think that’s the pull Freya’s talking about, or the call; when nature reaches down from above to squeeze your heart and say look at me, here I am waiting for you. I had carried this exact place with me all of my life, from town to town, city to city, country to country, picturing it in my head whenever I felt lost.

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment of clarity when I realised where I needed to be was actually the one place I’d known all along. But suddenly, I knew, and that warmed my soul.”

Looking back now, the final drive home after finishing uni feels like the beginning of an entirely new life for me – or chapter 44 as my mum likes to say. I had heaved and squeezed all of my belongings into every last crevice within my car, leaving barely enough space to fit my body. The road had emptied since leaving the city and I only had myself and a Bob Sega song for company as I passed the halfway mark. My windows were down, the breeze was warm and as I turned a hairpin corner on the range, a golden stained countryside unfolded beneath me. In that moment, I was filled with nothing but joy and the feeling of the call strong within me. I, like a magnet, allowed myself to be pulled home.

This is where I now am, and boy do I love this place. Like anywhere, it isn’t without it’s trials, but it’s every bit as grounding and free as I had imagined it would be. I’m working in the local nursery, studying plants and writing and reading to my heart’s content. I’m revisiting Walden with fresh eyes and a fresh heart, living in each season as it passes, breathing the air, drinking the drink, tasting the fruit and resigning myself to the influences of the earth, if you will.

Right now, I’m experiencing my first autumn at home in eight years so each morning it’s a small joy to walk around the garden to see the changing shades of claret, yellow and orange.”

I love walking down the street and being able to chat to everyone I see, knowing the first thing they looked at when reaching for their phone that morning wasn’t social media but the weather app – country folk are always on the look-out for rain and its whereabouts is a hot topic with anyone you meet.

It’s bemusing to me that I’m sometimes met with hostility – people who can’t understand why I’ve come home, don’t I feel as though I’ve wasted time, money, a university degree? And what about that big degree, how am I using that in my garden nursery? There’s a suggestion that I’m in a predicament that needs solving or they think I’ve somehow failed, retreating from the big city lights to lick my wounds. I’m torn between trying to explain to them all about the call to nature and home, bearing my heart and soul and hoping they’ll see the light and understand. But then I think, maybe they won’t, and then again, they don’t have to. It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else so long as it makes sense to me. They’ve got their own call to answer anyway.

So here I am, happy and at home, my soul is light and that’s more than enough for me. I can’t think of a more eloquent way to finish than with Thoreau’s words that fill me with a greater sense of understanding now than when I first read them years ago – I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.