Thoughts on being a “local”

This post has been percolating in the back of my mind for a few days, but I’ve been too busy with the crises-from-Hel at work to even think about blogging… and now I find once again that I’m really just another self-expression of the pagan-blogging egregore, Inanna and Sara (among others) both having written on community already this week.

Inanna says, We occupy a unique cultural moment in which community can’t be taken for granted as the place where you’re stuck and the people you’re stuck with. Community needs to be built intentionally…

I find this highly applicable to my life, as we are intentionally building community precisely in “the place where we’re stuck and the people we’re stuck with.”

I’m not native to the area of North Carolina we live in (I was born in Florida, and my roots are mainly there and in upstate New York), but I’ve lived in this immediate area since 1980, and within 100 miles since 1975. I went to high school and college here, and my entire working life has been spent here.

My wife is a native of the next town up the road; her ancestors came to this area (the surrounding 75 miles or so) before the Revolution, and here they have remained. She grew up within blocks of three generations of her family, and has a *rootedness* about her that I can sometimes touch but never fully experience or comprehend (I come from restless stock). She is very much of this land, and can’t readily imagine leaving it – I envy this while not fully understanding it, but it pleases me that our daughter has it as her birthright.

When we met I was living in the city, and she still in the town she grew up in – after a number of years living with me in the city, we have settled (I hope permanently) in what is functionally an exurb, a dot on the map between our two poles – close enough to the city to allow me to commute but only a few minutes from her family. We have an excellent and inclusive homeschool support group, the town center is a five minute drive away, we’re fairly close to our UU church, and any more it is hard for us to go into town without meeting someone that our daughter knows.

It seems that hardly a week goes by where I don’t see someone writing about the loss of community in America… well, I have an answer, and it’s the same answer as the two writers I just linked – make it happen. Am I crazy about all aspects of living in this precise spot? No… for instance, I have to drive a good 40 minutes to get to the nearest book store. :( But the good far outweighs the bad, and the benefits – to me, to my family, and ultimately to the community and in a tiny way to the country as a whole – far outweigh whatever minor advantage might be gained by moving again.

Later in the same post I linked and quoted from earlier, Inanna goes on to say,

When we talk about community-building in a general way, we’re probably talking about building relationships with people. But as Pagans, we also care about building relationships with the land and its inhabitants (material and immaterial). Feeling connected to the land is important to many of us, and many of our other values emerge from that feeling – or the desire for a feeling – of connection to the land.

I was drawn to Druidry because of the significance it places on nature as a locus of spiritual significance. Not “Nature” in the abstract, as a concept or metaphor, but nature as itself – the dirt and trees and water and wildlife that is right outside your door. As I slowly come to learn my new nature, I am finding that the energy of the place I am now is very different from the energy of the place I was before, even though it’s only twenty miles away. The city has a vibrant, nervous energy about it, a constant striving for newness that comes from the people, but I suspect is also partly brought about in them by something in the place. In contrast, as I begin to make contact with the land here I sense a deliberateness, a willingness to let things grow in their own time and flower in their own season, that I think also affects the people. More so, perhaps, in my wife’s hometown – we are nearer the city, and there is some spillover of that energy as it continues to sprawl in this direction – but even so, I can walk into the woods behind the house, sit above the river, and sense that the land is prepared to welcome me… eventually.

ADDENDUM: The city doesn’t have a river running through it, but there is a fairly good-sized creek that has been important historically; a large chunk of which was entombed in a culvert in the 1950s, when they built a shopping mall near downtown. Now the (decrepit, drug-infested) mall is being torn down, and a multi-purpose municipal park is planned around the creek. This in the city where a few years ago the mayor referred to a park in the heart of downtown as “dead space” because there wasn’t a way to make money off it. Maybe something good is happening there.

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One thought on “Thoughts on being a “local”

  1. quakerpagan

    Hey, Erik,
    I’m glad you found the time to blog, however busy you have been.

    I, too, have been thinking a lot on the topic of community. Mind you, I suspect that’s always true for almost all Pagans! That experience of “coming home” is so powerful for many of us, it naturally gets incorporated into our vision of what’s sacred–of what religion is “for.”

    But becoming Quaker has challenged my own sense of community in a lot of ways. To begin with, despite the very strong emphasis that Quakers, too, put on community as a part of religious life, all of my really closest friends are still Pagans. This both reassures and frustrates me. Reassures, because who doesn’t want to hang onto relationships of value to them, no matter how many changes life brings! And frustrating because I know very clearly that much of Quaker spirituality is centered in the “corporate”–ie, the communal–spiritual experience. And that’s both experiencing the presence of God together, and translating that power into our relationships with one another. And here I am, working hard at learning to trust in the Presence I encounter at meeting, but still on my best behavior with most of my Quaker friends. Best behavior ain’t it–though being in our best, deepest selves quite arguably is.

    I have all kinds of discussions with myself about why I am not more intimate with my second community, the Quaker meeting. No answers yet, and maybe it’s simply a matter of patiently creating relationships. After all, my meeting has over 100 members… and though I certainly belong to intimate Pagan groups that large, I became intimate with them by participating in them while in the context of a smaller intimate group, my old coven. Coming into a group with fewer preexisting bonds may simply make the process longer. In any case, it is what it is… however frustrating I sometimes find it.

    There are frustrations in my relationship with the land, too. I had the great good fortune of having an unusually deep and powerful relationship with place when I was growing up–I still dream regularly about my old home, though it is no longer even there. Sadly, this means that I know that my relationship with the land around me is somehow incomplete; in all the years since I left home, I have never again acheived quite that sense of unity with the spirit of a place.

    It’s better, now that I live again in Western Massachusetts. Despite having had the chance to live in the woods–beautiful woods–when I lived in Vermont, those woods were different enough from the ones I grew up in that their spirits were strange to me. We made friends, but never became family, those woods and I. The wooded hills of Western Mass., on the other hand, are clearly, clearly home–particularly those I drive through on my way to and from work each day. They feel exactly right to me, and sometimes, carbon footprint or no carbon footprint, my commute feels like a time of worship to me. I love it.

    But the school day is long and exhausting, and I rarely have the energy to stop off at the nearby state park before I head home each day. Still less do I have the energy to leave my house in the small city where I live, once I get home to it, to walk the relatively long way before I come to real woods, and a place to be with the land without being surrounded by the refuse of a city. My house has no yard to speak of, and, though there are trees aplenty in my neighborhood, they are all walled off from me in the yards of others. There are maple leaves brushing the windows of our house! And yet, in many ways, I feel very, very far away from the trees they grew on.

    Maybe that’s why Peter and I have overcompensated a bit, and let the ivy go wild–it’s almost swallowed our house. Perhaps I’ll put up a picture of it someday soon–our house is as green and shaggy as a hill! Birds nest on it! And squirrels and ants damage our house because of it, and we know it has to come down–probably this summer. But it’s hard to let go of the little green we have of our own, without running afowl of human law and custom.

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