• Rachel

Connected to the Land

Aina is a word used by Hawaiians for love of the land and nature, a love that connects one to the ancestors who lived on the land. We describe our love of country or our love of nature or the beauties of nature’s offerings. We love the ocean and trees and desert and plains, caves, mountains, wildflowers and sunsets. We love the songs of birds and the smell of honeysuckles. But how so many of us love the land we call home. I’ve never found an exact word for that. The creek behind the house, the little pond where we or the neighborhood children caught tadpoles, or the hill upon which we or our children went sledding claim a special place in the heart. Though I have lived in and visited many places, I have lived primarily in lush, green, humid, climates. While I don't love the summer humidity, I love that lush green and the rain that sustains it. Surrounded by and living among trees, I feel protected. It feels cozy and feels like home. I appreciate the beauty of deserts and other climates, but hilly, green climates just seem right. More Places Called Home


That seems so obvious and uncontroversial to me. But, of course, it isn't. To a friend from the midwest, who since moved away, the trees that I love made things feel closed in. She was used to seeing out over large stretches of land in the valley of the majestic Rocky Mountains.


I lived in that environment at one time. I loved it. I loved the beauty of the mountains, and the canyons reminded me of home. I loved the cooler, less humid spring through fall months. It was convenient that it didn't rain most days. I liked that food didn't go bad as quickly or get bugs as easily. I had always eaten cereal for its convenience but hadn't liked it all that well. But cereal tasted better in the new climate. It was crisper and didn't get soggy so quickly. (Fortunately, cereals hold up better in the east now also.)


Transplants from that valley region miss their mountains when they move east. Those mountains seem to cradle and protect. They oriented me, and there's nothing quite like that in my home in the east, beautiful as our mountains are. I always knew where I was, the mountains always to the east, right there, towering over us.


But I did miss the green of home. If I said so, it made no sense to natives of my new state, who would point to a bush or tree as obvious proof that there was vegetation there. I missed the rain, inconvenient as it can be. I loved those rainy, overcast days and the thunderstorms so common especially at night in the east. I was used to living near rivers and lakes and to crossing little bridges when out and about.


My midwestern home


When I first moved west, it felt as though I were breathing dust. It just didn't feel as though there was enough air. When it did rain, it seemed to kick up the dust as much as anything else. There were days of hard rain occasionally, and snow fell in winter, but the soaking, blinding rain of the east would have seemed like science fiction to my midwestern friends.


I was no stranger to snow, having lived in the northeast for five years and occasionally seeing a little snow in the southern states in which I lived. Midwestern snow was plentiful as in the northeast, but it was drier, and I preferred that. The wet snow I had known was bone-chilling.


Much as I loved my east coast trees and rain and water, I loved the unique beauty of the midwest. When I later lived in Monterey, California, I enjoyed mountains and trees and water and a temperate climate with low humidity. It was, remarkably, almost never really hot or cold. When a Foreign Land Became Home


I loved the subtropical island climate in which I once lived, and I loved the sugar cane fields. Later, I loved the snowy wonderland in which I lived in northern Japan. I loved living by the water in five Japanese communities. I became familiar with that wonderful, foreign land where I saw jungle crows, Siberian geese, and kites, huge brown birds that flew almost into car windshields a little too often. I loved Japan's little wagtails.


I saw some creepy crawlers I've never seen in America, including huge, frightening red-orange stinging insects and locusts fully three inches long. I saw a huge, yellow puffy worm-like thing I have never since been able to identify. I saw a huge, literally furry insect that I have had no better luck identifying. The Magnificent and Familiar


I imagine someone unfamiliar with cicadas would be terrified to hear the loud sound of the insects that some months of some years fill the trees where I call home. In a big year for cicadas, the sound fills the air. The mating call of a cicada can reach over ninety decibels, sometimes reaching 105 decibels. That's as loud as a motorcycle, but we come to barely notice it. It's just a summer sound like the sound of crickets or lawnmowers.


I was surprised to learn that my husband from the northwest had never seen a firefly light up when he was growing up. I had always assumed the delightful little bugs lived everywhere and never noticed when I lived places where they didn't. The northwest has fireflies but not the east coast variety. It is also less hospitable to mosquitoes, a gift to residents of those states. We take for granted little things that characterize home to us.


I've seen squirrels everywhere I've ever lived in the United States and overseas. But I've learned that squirrels aren't ubiquitous in Australia and are somewhat new to many Australians, blessed with an abundance of wildlife, visiting other countries. Our squirrels scamper about freely, so fast that I've never seen a neighborhood cat catch one. Several years ago, I saw a black squirrel in our neighborhood full of grey squirrels, and now both colors of coats are common here.


As owls became more common in our little neighborhood, we've seen fewer robins and mockingbirds. We note changes over years but always have beautiful creatures at which to marvel. Things that Comfort and Feel Right


Those familiar things that say home to us comfort us and feel right. Much as I love the beauties and wonders the world over, I love those things that I can take for granted, those comfortable things that I see and hear and smell and touch all the time. I love the four seasons, our beautiful spring flowers, our full green trees in summer, our autumn colors, and our winter snow. I love scenic drives over our bridges and love our thousands of miles of coastline and our 2.6 million acres of forest. I love our wildlife.


I often love the rainy days and nights when the rain beats down, watering everything. The sound is almost hypnotic. The thunder and lightning are nature's fireworks. There is nothing quite like the windy cool before a storm in the summer or the glorious after the rain smell of newly watered earth.


Sometimes in fog, it appears as though crossing a bridge will transport us to another dimension. The ethereal quality seems as though it would be the setting for a fantasy where the protagonist finds a hidden world. I sometimes imagine that, driving through the fog into some unseen destination.


Swiss writer Pascal Mercier said in Night Train to Lisbon, “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there." I have called several places home and have loved them all. Each has had those unique characteristics that make a place unforgettable, worthy of love, and worthy of that most special label, being called home.


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