Sarah W. Bartlett
“Where we want to be is where we ought to live” – SWB, summer 1996
Apparently, I’ve been searching for a sense of home since childhood. In the great woods behind our house when family connection broke down. In music to which I devoted after-school hours. In writing to name and to understand. In exploring nature for answers and guidance. In endless gardens planted, and myriad growing things nurtured.
I was an adult before I discovered my soul home. It perches on a Vermont hillside among maples with a permanent 180˚ western view of the Green Mountains. Early summer mornings, thick mist ribbons twist and twirl their way up the valley, shifting from cottony fullness to vapor-thin transparency. The light, the very air changes all through the day, constantly enveloping the shifting view of the same vista. Constancy in change. Deep breathing without waiting for the second shoe. Attunement with nature. This is home.
Here, my children developed a sense of independence, connection with the natural world and their own resiliency. Here they explored their creative initiatives, learned to balance action and silence, experienced birth, healed from an older brother’s untimely death, played wildly; returning year after year to the rituals of berrying and jamming, their efforts enjoyed into the long cold months of winter. Here they learned to celebrate birthdays and each other – life, adventure, challenge, grief, growth. They have taken tadpoles from early spring ponds and nurtured them to frog-hood, releasing them back to their native habitat to continue their cycle of living. They have used their imaginations to create plays, movies, and extended stories. They have painted, drawn, photographed, written, knitted, and read aloud to one another. This has become home to them as it has for me: the place for spiritual renewal and connection, where, stripped of externalities, we blossom into who we are, fundamentally and essentially.
My favorite time is July – lazy days of warm air and warmer sun, the clean air moving across the hill. Sometimes carrying the signature scent of freshly mown hay or its close relative, newly spread cow manure. A day might start at 5am watching a large black bear lumber clumsily across the field; or a trio of deer feeding tentatively along the lower edge where they have nibbled an even line along the trees. Then a 6am blueberry-pick yielding enough for morning pancakes and a case of jam by nightfall. Most of all, time here is permission: to write all day or read a novel from cover to cover. To sketch the hummingbird suspended on the opposite side of the glass, attracted to the red sweater left on the floor by a child too eager for the next activity to clean up from the last.
One spring weekend some years back, we decided to clean the considerable build-ups from long winters —a quarter century of grease, grime and neglect. Peeling away layers of dirt, living, kids evolving into adulthood and we into early decline. Determined to get down past dirty, into some place before grime, I felt that I would uncover an essential truth about this place, my life, life in general. I couldn’t name it, nor could I stop my driving, nagging determination to get there. And I did.
I am no longer searching for home. Like a turtle, I carry home with me, for it is in my heart, my memories, the very fiber of my being.
It is the last five miles driving the dirt ridge between breathtaking vistas of valley below and layered mountains beyond, anticipation rising as my speed quickens.
It is wild pheasant, fox, bear, deer; the scent of new-mown hay, sheep, dairy cow and puppies; early morning mist and late-night northern lights, bats filling the brilliantly clear star-studded sky.
It is lazing in mid-day sun; walking Caspian Lake; visiting Stone’s Throw and Perennial Pleasures gardens; inhaling peace, imbibing renewal, absorbing relaxation.
It is painting and writing non-stop for days; building forts, towers and secret chambers; mowing mazes, rolling downhill in hay or snow; the circle of family knitting to stories, puzzles in progress and home-grown raps.
It is ritual—from the first wildflower bouquet plucked for bedside tables to visiting the White Rock, where ashes of five beloved dogs rest from play; reading A Moose for Jessica and A Thurber Carnival; the annual Mt. Wheeler hike, the daily Willey-go; to the final day’s gravely retreat.
It is memories— first Mt. Elmore hikes, Long Trail overnights; swooping sled rides swirling across open snow fields; igloos and ice sculptures; “Berried Treasures”; a surprised dog mouth of porcupine quills; two annual summer weeks of children a year older and more capable; days of illness, weeks of healing; Clarence and Clarissa Moose coming to call; birthdays and family reunions, celebrations all.
It is history—the place my parents sought for 30 years, a place of solitude and communion with nature, for growing up and old together through the seasons of all our lives; retreat, get-away, get-together.
On this land I stand rooted, connected, grateful and whole. I am home.
Sarah W. Bartlett has authored two poetry chapbooks with Finishing Line Press, Into the Great Blue (2011) and New Women’s Voices Finalist #130, Slow Blooming Gratitudes (2017). Her work appears in Adanna, Ars Medica, the Aurorean, Chrysalis, Colere, Lilipoh, Minerva Rising, Mom Egg Review, PMS:PoemMemoirStory, Women’s Review of Books; and numerous anthologies, including the award-winning “Women on Poetry,” (McFarland & Co. Inc., 2012). Her work celebrates nature’s healing wisdom and the human spirit’s landscapes