08 November 2011


Apparently change is good. It better be because it's about to happen again. Three and a half years in Switzerland, three in Chile, a year in Kazakhstan, two in Mexico, a couple other places scattered here and there, and come this July all roads will point back home, or at least a version of home in a part of the world I know the best. In July 2012 this piece of property--its physical walls, floors, and ceiling, as well as its history and the stories, people, places, and things that have passed through its doors--will constitute my work for at least a year's time.

Part restoration, part documentation, part research and fieldwork, part exhibit, the project will focus on a 19th century homestead in a remote part of south central Idaho. The project will provide the framework, the daily schedule, for a year. Beyond the project, the year spent in a place, area, or region that I can only generally describe as home will help to redefine and reacquaint me with what I think I know and also don't know about myself. I will have a job to do next year, and a limited time to do it, but the secondary function of next year will be to sink my feet deep in a landscape and culture that for a good ten years has existed
only as memories.

Living abroad has taught me many things, maybe most importantly are the reasons I love the country and place where I was born, both as a physical and ideological space. However, reasons, though hopefully based on sound judgement, can be ephemeral. Reasons distort over time, change over time, even sometimes prove false over time. Do I love the place where I'm from, am I still connected to it, or am I in love instead with an idea I have formed after living apart from it for so long? Will the idea stand up to the reality? Probably not entirely. Will I be capable, then, of adapting to the reality? Hard to tell.

It's the whole Thomas Wolfe "you can't go home again" syndrome not uncommon to expats and others living far away for long periods of time. In the novel of the same name Wolfe writes:

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing's sake, back home to aestheticism, to one's youthful idea of 'the artist' and the all-sufficiency of 'art' and 'beauty' and 'love,' back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

You can't go back home. You can't go back to a place that once seemed permanent, unchanging, and, in its permanence, meaningful but which, in fact, was "changing all the time." Maybe. Maybe I'll sink my feet and not feel comfort. Maybe I won't recognize that which I thought I knew. Once uprooted, maybe the only way to survive is to graft onto something else and hope that some other rootstock is capable of supporting another life. Luckily, for me, I'm interested enough in this idea that I'm willing to experiment, give it a shot with the consequence that at the very least the change will offer yet another series of experiences in a long list of speculative adventures. Ultimately, why not?

I look forward to it. I look forward to seeing friends and family I haven't seen in years. I look forward to open spaces, dry air, and endless expanses of sagebrush. I look forward to daily runs to the top of Kelly Springs or up the East Fork. I can't wait to ski Lizzie's Bowl, Buck's Choice, White Wine, or off the backside of Pine Mountain again, places where you're more likely to ski with antelope or elk than you are other skiers. And I already envision fishing my favorite spots on the... well, let's just say on some of the lesser-known rivers and streams surrounding the area. No need to disclose too much information.

Home might be more a state of mind than a fixed place. Maybe home represents a collective ideal of place, relations, history, landscape, culture, occupation, and any number of other factors. Maybe home is a single ideal and maybe it's a series of ever-evolving memories and wishes. I don't really know. Right now, all I know is that within a year I will leave, once again, a place I could never consider home and return to another place that in ten years, in many ways, I never left.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully said Steve.

steven hatcher said...

Thanks Anonymous!

Lea said...

"all i wanted to be,
was a million miles from here,
somewhere more familiar."


steven hatcher said...

It's true. You may not ever go back home but you might not ever stop thinking about it, either.