This Land is My Land: Our Souls Amongst the Ruins

“The Piers”

When Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman raced across the plains of America in 1992’s film “Far and Away,” they were there to stake their claim on a parcel of wilderness they would then call their own. I was both thrilled with their victory and equally disturbed by the undertones of a pioneers’ entitlement to any land at all.

My ancestors, like so many people across the earth, have usurped the property of those native to the land. Pride and shame, blood and bones are part of the soil, and from that springs a brave new world. The Natives of America dream of taking it back entirely, understandably. Many foreigners today both resent us and wish to be us. It’s a dirty business. I secretly wish we had stayed in Scotland, that we still did sacrificial rites and hunted under the moon.

Recently, my own circumstances have left me temporarily homeless. I am now a nomad, a transient. Yet, I am hopeful that I will once again find a home to call my own, where I can furnish it and color it how I please. I have the eventual means and the fortitude. Nonetheless, I am gaining spiritual ground from this plight.

On the one hand, I have everything I need. I have family and friends to give me tenure. I have my health and my wits. My duty to others is covered; my cats are being cared for elsewhere and my children have the security they require. I don’t really have serious worries, as I am privileged to sleep indoors and lug my essentials from place to place. I mean, I do have a plan.

But this roaming is a pain in the ass. I can’t paint right now, the one thing that has brought me consistent joy for two years. There is too much to carry and a mess is always made. I have very little privacy. Personal hygiene has been pared down to a raw and most natural level. I miss my cats. I spend a lot of time strategizing each activity or period of rest so as not to intrude on others. I am restricted by the dominion of each landlord. I am a tenant, not a governing faction. I have become an indentured servant, both grateful and uncomfortable. I miss entertaining guests. I miss getting coffee in my underwear. I miss tossing out garbage in a robe. I miss my own garden, where every flower was planted with my own hands.

Simultaneously, my family’s land has diminished. Resting on the St Croix River was once a small kingdom of nine homes on a square mile, free access to the water, ski trails and fishing ponds, vast acres of tall pines my great-grandfather had planted 100 years ago, and a communal respect for how things are done. Older generations died. New generations sold off their parcels for monetary gains. Now the government allows a few of us to remain on federal land and only two homes remain side by side nestled into the bluff. I don’t live here, but I always expected I could. I am a stranger to the majority, not the familiar daughter of JoAnn. Furthermore, I can still visit Pioneer Park, but it was once my family’s yard and home. No one at the park knows or cares. I am nobody.

We have evolved into something less important. The legacy feels forgotten. It is a humble thing.

I never understood why a person was attached to a place and refused to leave. Now I do. I appreciate the lesson.

What is left is just me. My body, my meager possessions, and ultimately my soul. What I do, how I behave, my memories and my dreams are the intangibles of a wanderer. How I think of these things, how I feel, and the scope of all we really have are the core components to a spiritual life. I can sit in self-pity and rage against the loss, or I can rise. The gods give and the gods take away. So be it. I am forced as a survivor to relinquish the material and embrace the very thing no one has taken yet, the warmth of my smile, my growing intuition, and the power of being alive. After all, I am still breathing. It must be the way it is supposed to be. Even my breath must come and go.

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