Saturday, July 4, 2009

Looking for Home

For years I have been looking at this Eve & Adam – a picture, I understood, of a carving no longer in existence. Blasted to rubble by Azerbaijani artillery in 1991, along with the rest of the once-Armenian monastery. A carving that could no longer be photographed. From a monastery which no longer stood. In a country which no longer existed.

But I was wrong: this bas-relief of First Woman and First Man in Paradise (and the Gandzasar monastery on whose walls it is carved) has been restored. In Armenia – or rather a scattered but stubbornly re-emergent fragment of Armenia currently called the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.

Armenia intrigues me. It was once part of the Kingdom of Ararat. As in Mount Ararat where Noah reportedly re-emerged from his ark. And Mt. Ararat is, in fact, an Armenian national icon, blazoned on flags and seals, though now out of bounds to Armenians. Enemy territory. Lost, though visible still, just over the border.

To find that this Adam & Eve is not after all destroyed, is like discovering that the Narrows – one of the reverberate sites of my childhood – is also not gone. I had thought the Narrows – down along Clear Creek where my dad and grandpa used to take us fishing, in the tender darkness before early summer sunrises – had been blasted by my uncle’s crew from the Department of Transportation when they put the 4-lane highway through.

But three years back, Fritz and I biked one morning through that intimate canyon, a birth-canal of low-rising red-rose cliffs along the snow-melt creek. A source-place for me.

Though it is not my place.

Petroglyphs nearby mark Clear Creek Canyon as a place of irrecoverable meaning to the people called Paiute, or the earlier people we call Fremont. And both peoples there before any of my closer relations built houses. Which is, wearily, another story of conquest and erasure.

I cannot help but think of homeland and exile when I come back to this valley. Especially at this time of year – Independence Day, anniversary of the birth of my nation.

road from Annabell' to Richfield, Utah
Except that birth is too organic a term. We have made a Nation, rather than inheriting a Homeland – more a system of laws than a sacred geography. A system we made and keep making – by choice and by chance. Nation of ideas and ideals, rather than homeplace of one biologically victorious family line.
Elsinore, Utah

We are a nation of exiles – and should behave with the circumspection and delicacy of good guests. Which none of us can sustainedly do. But which is after all what our First Parents' story tells us: that we are cast out from the ground we were made from, obliged to make a life in foreign territory - with discretion, amidst choice and danger.

town of Joseph, Utah

For me, coming here to this particular valley, this little town cupped in the mountain's palm – multiplies exile by exile.

Growing up away from cousins and grandparents, I always thought of this string of mountain valleys as my real home. Here were gravestones inscribed with the names repeated in family stories and scribbled on the back of black & white photographs. Here the peaks and buttes that have formed the background to those stories and photos, landmarks that have been my family's points of reference for five generations.
cabin my great-grandfather grew up in, now moved to the park in the center of town
But when for a while I found myself living again in the valley where I was born, I realized these valleys were not any more my real home than any other place I'd lived. I am only a familiar stranger here, a returning pilgrim who can never stay. 

I don't know anymore where my roots really lie - not there in that familiar valley, not here in these beautiful woods where (for now) I hold the deed to a house, not somewhere back over the sea. For years I wanted to find that place, that place I belonged, where I would be wholly welcomed in, where I would know I was at home. But now I don't think I can nor want to find a homeland anywhere. All the wars I hear seem battles over yet another homeland too narrow to hold all her latest children.

town party in the background
So, home - for me, becomes a tent, temporary – like this week here in the welcome my parents make with the work of their own hand in the space they keep safe between them.

A movable tabernacle marking out an earthly haven only for the space of time it stands.

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