Americans love to move on…We come from moving on stock; our ancestors packed up and left family, friends, lands, and cultures behind, looking for a new start—economic, religious, or intellectual freedoms—risked everything to leave the old world behind and start over. It is in our genes. We have always been a restless people, searching for greener pastures or a better job or relationship, wanting to be anywhere else but here. It’s not a bad trait. However, we also tend to move on when we have messed up, physically or emotionally, leaving the thrashed area behind, finding wide open clean spaces ahead. Look at all of the boom towns, logged over areas, mining pits, and empty big box stores that litter our country. Bigger, better, and further on. It can be a problem.
It is a problem. The frontier is closed. Yeah, it closed, metaphorically, in the mid- nineteenth century, but then there was Alaska, or Space, or that vast empty area in the upper mid-west, and we did not quite realize our limits. We’ve found them. There are no clean places left. We are almost out of oil, which allows us to move so quickly. Our atmosphere is at a tipping point right now and may not be salvageable. We need to reach within ourselves and find the other side to moving on, an idea that also lurks deep within our psyche as Americans—the desire to stay in one space, to know our place, to defend our homes with our full spirits and lives.
This desire is deep within us. Look back at Thoreau and his writings on Walden Pond—part scientific analysis of plants and water tables, part rant on American ideals, and part spiritual exploration of the nature of place. Others have followed—the Local Color movement of the late nineteenth century and the nature writers of the twentieth. Read Mary Wilkins Freeman and Sarah Orne Jewett, Willa Cather and Robert Frost and learn how the land shapes our choices, our world, if we let it. Study Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Henry Beston, Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, and Barbara Kingsolver. They all love their homeplaces. Drive across the country listening to the music that has come from different regions and you understand the land and people. Understanding leads to love—and love to a desire to protect what we value.
Corvallis has become my home—more specifically, my house has become my sacred land. A house, to me, is not an investment to be occupied for a few years before moving on. I did that when I was young. My family was peripatetic. We moved every year or so, starting when I was eight and my parents sold the house they had built together and hit the road. My grandparents moved regularly as well, always searching for the better deal. By the time I was 13, I could pack a kitchen in two hours flat, unpack it in the same amount of time and not break a dish. I know how to move. All of my belongings will fit in my van (not all at once).
When I moved into my house, I did not expect to stay so long. But, about a year in, I was staring out the bathroom window (it has a lovely view of the backyard), when I felt the spirit of the house settle around me. It had been a rental all of its life, I believe, owned by an OSU professor who specialized in camellias and lived next door. People loved living here; in 1941, a grandparently couple planted the fig, yellow plum, and cherry trees in the yard. It has never been abused as a building. However, it has never been owned. That sunny day, I felt the old occupants, the planters of trees and flowers, as well as the building itself, enter my soul. This is my home. My house, my land. One tenth of an acre and a 625 square foot house—it’s not much, but it is mine. I share it with Mark, it is true, but it is part of me, not so much him. It is worth defending.
People move regularly in Corvallis. When students move into the neighborhood, bringing noise and cars, looming bad developments and booming beats in the middle of the night, rather than fight, they leave, shifting to the edge of town or out into the country. I understand the impulse; I’ve considered moving my house out of town a time or two myself. (The difference may be—I’d take the building with me.) But then, I grow stubborn. Why should I give in? Besides, where would I find what I have here—a small, solid old house, a large lot, within walking distance of everything—that I could afford. We own this house outright. That is a huge deal in uncertain economic times. So I fight back. I fuss. I write letters. I organize. I research. I even nag. This is sacred ground—and there is no frontier any longer. This is the final stand.