On going home.

Where is home?

On a recent trip to Montana, I got to thinking about this question. Being in Montana always makes me think about home. I inevitably leave with a huge lump in my throat, wondering how I could possibly leave it behind – again – and be content anywhere else. Montana has a hold on my soul that will not let go. Montana, for me, has always been home.

However, I got back to North Carolina, and as I stepped into the humid night, kissed my dog (and then my husband), I found myself saying “it feels good to be home.” How can this place, a world away, be home as well?

I suppose that over the years my concept of where “home” is has changed. I think I may be finally convinced that, as they say, home is where the heart is. Hopefully I’ll settle down one of these days, but in these past nomadic years of my life, I’ve poured my heart into – and thus left part of it behind in – the handful of places I’ve lived and grown.

Part of my heart is here in Carrboro. My heart is in my first married home and in the first fireflies on that first humid night in spring, announcing that summer is coming soon. Its in a glass of wine at Weaver Street and the subtle southern drawl that creeps its way into the vocabulary of us Yankee transplants. Its in a group of people that inspire me and make me belly laugh every single day. Its in gallons of sweet tea in summer, a year-round growing season, and the neighborhood bonfire where I always drink too many beers.

Hanging with my puppy on my hammock in the backyard.

Part of my heart is in Boston. Its in the first job I ever loved enough to hate and the granules of sugar in a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee. Its in a long commute on a train that a claimed to despise, but secretly adored for the uninterrupted time it gave me to read a good book every day on my way to and from work. Its in the snootiness of the Back Bay, the charm of the North End, the Jewishness of Brookline, the bitterness of Southie, the self-consciousness of Charlestown, the diversity of Dorchester, and the peacefulness of JP…and of course the fanaticism of Fenway.

Gorgeous night at Fenway Park.

Part of my heart is in Puerto Rico. It is in the constant throbbing of the reggaeton dembo alternating with the chatter of salsa and sensuality of bachata. It is in song-like Caribbean tonality of speech and the laziness of r’s that sound like l’s. Its in getting caught in flash rainstorms during a run on the beach and the gaiety of parrandas during Navidades. Its in the boricua patriotism and the community activism and in the gritty beauty of the Perla slum on the coast of Viejo San Juan.

The PR and US flags.

Part of my heart is at Notre Dame. Its in fanatic football Saturdays, bratwursts and crowd pushups, and teary-eyed swaying during the final alma mater. Its in the quiet spot between the Basilica and the grotto, the flicker of candles in the rocks, and the silence at 3am when you can sit there in the cold and be so far from alone. Its in my best friends being no more than a staircase or a hallway away, the gold leaves in the fall, and even the perma-cloud of February that makes you appreciate spring all the more. More than anything, its in my first real experience away from my original home, and in finding myself, and in discovering I am okay, and in learning to dream.

The view from my favorite study spot on the 10th floor of the Hesburgh Library.

Part of my heart is in Idaho. It is in a middle school gymnasium where I met my husband and a green hill where I married him. It is in the subtle beauty of the landscape, the comforting familiarity of the streets of the small town I grew up in, and the fact that most things never really change there. Its in falling back into our silly high school selves whenever I reunite with old friends, and realizing that they still “get” me. Its in the tears that inevitably come when I sneak into the backyard of my old house and finger the faded pencil marks on the “how-tall post” where my grandfather marked my height, and marvel at the tree I planted by the fence in second grade.

Me, my sister, and the "how tall" post.

If part of my heart is in all of these places, then part of my soul is in Montana. It is rooted in the mountains, it is alive in the open fields, and I feel different when I’m there than I do any place else. Its in the cowboy nod and rusty pickup trucks, pastures that creep up to the stolid Bitterroot chain, and clean crisp streams that are at once chock-full of fish and bitingly cold. And its in my memories on my grandparents farm, shelling peas with my grandfather, singing on the front porch with my grandmother, riding horses and hiking and fishing and exploring under an infinite sky.

Old school Bitterroot Valley - riding horses at my grandparent's farm outside Hamilton. Sam's on the horse, I'm in the checkered jacket, pigtails, and terrible permed hair.

As someone who lives to travel, I am energized by discovering new places and I fall in love with them easily. My recent trip – hiking with a good friend in Bozeman and watching a storm roll in from the plains on one horizon toward the mountains on the other, and holding my cousin’s newborn son, knowing generations of shared Montana blood ran through both our veins – reminded me of my constant struggle between my roots and my wings. I’ve found peace in being far away from where I came from because I’ve been able to pour my heart into the new places I’ve discovered. I have a feeling that someday my roots will tug me back…but for the time being, I’m comforted knowing that I can build a new home wherever I land, and that the mountains aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Where is home for you?


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One response to “On going home.”

  1. Kyle J. Baker says :

    Wonderful piece Jenna.


    A fellow ID/MT exile.

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