What does “home” mean to you? A place? A group of people? A memory? Or is it a feeling deep inside that touches your heart and soul? All of these perhaps. Our own life experiences define what home means to each of us. I grew up in Illinois, later lived in California, and then settled in Massachusetts for more than 30 years. Massachusetts is where I met my life partner, Anne, and where we were married. I’ve always loved both coasts, but I didn’t realize how much the Northeast had become home for me until I moved away and then returned for a visit.
A year ago, in June, Anne and I moved to Florida, leaving behind many years of memories and starting anew in a different part of the country. This June, one year later, I traveled north for a five-day retreat at Omega in Rhinebeck, New York. I was totally unprepared for the emotions that welled up in me as I flew into JFK and then took a series of trains to Rhinebeck in rural New York.
The Amtrak train route follows the Hudson River. On one side is the wide expanse of the river, and on the other, rolling hills and open fields. It was the latter than grabbed my heart: the GREEN! Avalanches of vibrant early summer green everywhere I looked—green trees, bushes, grasses. Mother Earth bursting with renewed life. Green filled my eyes and my heart. Tears streamed down my face. It was all so profoundly beautiful and so familiar. It was “home” to me at a very deep level. Florida has its own stunning tropical beauty, but here was a beauty that had been part of my life since childhood: the change of seasons and the return of green after a long winter. And for me it was the return of summer green after being away from it for a year.
I was in absolute awe at how stunning and vibrant the colors were, both on the train route and then at Omega itself. The sun highlighted all the varying shades of green, and the play of color and light was breathtaking. I wrote to Anne: “How did we live here and not fall on our knees in gratitude every day at the miracle of these incredible greens each spring and summer?!” It’s not that we didn’t appreciate the beauty of the landscape then, but something about returning after months of absence made it all explode with radiance within my perception.
And the birds! I love birds, and the spring migration in Massachusetts was a highlight of the year for me. This past May I missed it tremendously. My bird friends were passing through on their northern route without me! The warblers and thrushes, the orioles and tanagers. Of all the birds, though, I think I missed the robins most. Their cheerful lilting songs fill the spring and summer air in the Northeast and Midwest. Although there are amazing and unique birds in Florida, particularly water birds, I missed the robins that I saw every day at my backyard birdbath in Massachusetts. So, when I arrived at Omega and heard robins singing everywhere, I was brought to tears once more.
These are the irreplaceable details that make up a feeling of home—at least for me. My heart opened wide in joy and gratitude. I felt like “myself” again in some indescribable way: cells of memory that live in the heart and never disappear. You can have many homes in a lifetime, but one or two may hold particular emotional meaning. For me, the green Earth is always home because it touches the deepest part of my being.
I had no idea I would react so strongly when I returned to the Northeast. It was a gift of unbroken connection with all of life. As I stood looking out at the hilly green Omega landscape, I was reminded of the e.e. cummings lines I used to repeat to myself each morning when I walked out the door to my garden:
“I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes”