“Clara sank down on a sheaf of wheat and covered her face with her hands. She did not know what she was going to do– whether she would go or stay. The great, silent country seemed to lay a spell upon her. The ground seemed to hold her as if by roots. Her knees were soft under her. She felt as if she could not bear separation from her old sorrows, from her old discontent. They were dear to her, they had kept her alive, they were a part of her. There would be nothing left of her if she were wrenched away from them. Never could she pass beyond that skyline against which her restlessness had beat so many times. She felt as if her soul had built itself a nest there on that horizon at which she looked every morning and every evening, and it was dear to her, inexpressibly dear.”
From “The Bohemian Girl,” Willa Cather*
The frogs are singing and I am home.
I wrote that late at night, CST, on May 1st. I had just arrived home to my farm after four months away. My head and my heart were still living in Newfoundland Standard Time. My body moved through the familiar space of home with ease, but it seemed unreal to me. I was not happy or sad, I was neither here nor there. It was the strangest feeling, strange enough that I felt compelled to dig through my heaps of luggage to find my laptop, open it up, and write those words. And then I knew it was time to return to this blog.
I wrote the first post, The Great White Winter, of this blog five months ago. It was not planned. I had taken some photos a few days before; one of them struck a chord and on impulse I created this blog, uploaded the photo, and started writing about it. I then put it on the back burner. I did not realise at the time that I was writing the first post on the winter solstice, that in-between day which tips the world forward, so that it begins to chase the light.
I was at an in-between place at the time. It was only a few weeks before I was to leave for Newfoundland. I had spent the fall at home doing research for my thesis. I was settled in, I was comfortable, I was going through a rough patch, though I was only half aware of that at the time. I did not want to go back to Newfoundland at that point. The thought of leaving home, of crossing that great distance in the middle of winter, of being uprooted and transplanted at such an unforgiving time of year, was almost unbearable. But I went. I had things to do in Newfoundland, but I wasn’t happy about it.
The transition is always hard. 2 a.m. arrival, rain melting towers of icy snow on the street, the air full of the sea. My sheets felt damp on my prairie skin. But my roommate, my friend, was there. And the next day more friends. The streets of St. John’s were familiar to me, though it took my flatlander legs a few days to get re-accustomed to their steepness. I was homesick, as always, but I was okay. In fact, I knew very well that I needed to be there, and not just because I had university to attend. I needed a break in my routine, I needed a fresh start in a familiar place. I needed to cross a bridge.
The in-between place. Home, but not settled back into its familiar comforts, its sometimes dangerous comforts. My heart still in Newfoundland, that harsh place that welcomed me with its foggy, rocky arms and taught me so much about who I am. The place that I was always fascinated by, sometimes dismissive of, sometimes ambivalent towards. The place that has now, almost without my noticing, settled itself into my soul so that a part of me will always belong there.
Home is my farm, the place I grew up, the place I love above all other places in the world. I have already written about my deep love for it elsewhere, and I don’t think I can describe it any better than I did there, in the journal Of Land and Living Skies. Page ten.
Ever since I was young, too young to remember how old, I had a deep abiding fear that I would have to leave the farm someday. As I grew older, and read books and learned about the world around me and began to dream of far off places, the fear deepened, for I knew that it was inevitable I would have to leave. Circumstances befell us so that we were transplanted to the city. Not so far geographically, but a galaxy away. Things changed in the city. New friends, new things, new books, new dreams. But the farm, home, always longed for, frequently returned to.
As I grew even older, I knew with certainty that I would have to leave someday, that I would have to go far away. I did not know exactly what it was I would do in this unknowable faraway place, but I knew I would have to go. I travelled, a lot, but always for just days or weeks, and always I was homesick. I didn’t know if I could ever face moving away. I delayed for as long as possible, choosing to study close to home, returning every summer to work in my hometown. But the day came when it was time to go. Acceptance into the Folklore programme at Memorial University of Newfoundland. When I opened the email, I cried. Not tears of joy, but those of sorrow for it meant I had to leave.
I went, somehow. I’m still not sure how I summoned the willpower to get on that plane and fly away to an unknown place. Something in me knew I had to go. And it was the best thing I ever did. Now, nearly two years later, I am back home and a different person from who I was before. I love my home just as much as I ever did, perhaps even more. In fact, the leaving and the coming back have made me see it in a whole new way. I am here, for now. It is where I always want to be, but now I know that I can leave and come back, because, as my dad says without fail every time I leave, “the farm will always be here waiting for you.”
So, what is this blog? It is still taking shape in my mind, but it will be about place, specifically, this place in southern Saskatchewan, but also other places as they are seen and experienced by a girl from southern Saskatchewan who went away to Newfoundland to become a folklorist. It will be stories, and legends, and histories, and journeys, and adventures, and misadventures, and musings, and folklore. It will be chasing the light.
Willa Cather. 1912. “The Bohemian Girl.” McClure’s Magazine 39: 420-443. Accessible online at the Willa Cather Archive: http://cather.unl.edu/