A few years ago a good friend recommended a book – Staying Put, by Scott Russell Sanders. At the time I was toying with standing still, being static – Staying Put – and in truth, I was struggling with the idea.
I know the book was meant to help me warm to my being committed to one place, but somehow I wasn’t ready to read it and I must have picked it up two or three times since, attempting to connect with the words, but each time I failed. I knew it was a worthy book because my friend is someone who I often chat with when in need of an understanding ear, guidance, or just plain reassurance so I felt sure there would come a time when the words would speak to me. So it is that the book has moved from bookshelf to bedside, house to narrowboat, cottage to campervan and now to a narrowboat once again. Only on this boat it can now sit on the bookshelf as something to be dipped into, referred to, because – I have read it, and so much of it resonated with me.
It spoke straight to my heart.
One of my struggles in life is the battle between my desire to move; to see new horizons, explore, meet new people, squeeze every drop out of life and; my desire to put down roots, nurture land, be part of a community, to learn to love a view so much that the desire to wake up to it day after day after day is so intense that I can’t leave. So, you see, my two feet are constantly at war with each other.
Reading the words in this book suddenly everything began to fit together, like a jigsaw I have been trying to finish for a while. When the author questions how can we appreciate other places if we have no sense of our own locality? It made sense, that if we have no connection with where we have come from or what our own culture is, how can we truly learn from everything else we see out in the world?
Whenever I travel, eventually I long for home. Whenever I see the beauty in another place, I am reminded of the beauty in England. Perhaps it is the thought of Spring flowers, soft sunny days, invigorating winds, the call of birds from the hedgerows, the sound of my native tongue that slips itself so easily into morning conversations as I walk my dog, or the comfort of cheeky banter understood only by those who have grown up amidst that humour. Always I feel the pull from deep within. Who knows, perhaps one day I will find a faraway land that far exceeds all that I know but for now, my land is here.
“As we walk our own ground, on foot or in mind, we need to be able to recite stories about hills and trees and animals, stories that root us in this place and that keep it alive.” ~ Scott Russell Sanders
This morning I was out walking with my daughter and we were identifying birds in the hedgerows, “You’re so clever Mummy!” said she, “you know just by listening and not looking!” (one day she will know I have no magic powers, but until then…) I asked her who she thought taught me to know the sounds of birds, “Grandma?” she replied. Of course, she was right, my own mother walked with me every day and taught me about flowers and birds and seasons and our land – she still does. “And who do you think taught Grandma? … it was her Daddy that taught her.”
Such a simple conversation that unfolded and yet it stirred in me a realisation that through our own love of place we can inspire, teach and nurture a love that will – hopefully – continue on through generations and in doing so help to preserve the many pockets of land that all we people are inexplicably tied to. I am connected to this place and yes I also feel connected to other places, but for me here is so threaded through my very make-up that right now the need to delve right into it and be part of it, is strong.
What I concluded in reading Staying Put is that right here on the canals I have everything and that must be why they call me back time and time again. I have roots – yes, roots on water. I have community – we boaters are a community, wherever we find ourselves. I have a beautiful view – every single day I can look out and feel inspired. And yet, with all of these things, I can still move. Britain’s Waterways are vast – why, we may get lost on this watery map for months and months.
And they are alive with tradition and history, a place to be preserved, a land that I can help to preserve. OK so I can’t have chickens or goats, nor the forest garden I dream of, but I can have boat dogs and tomatoes and flowers.
Suddenly the next chapter of my life makes sense. Suddenly it was the right time to read the book and feel part of something, to acknowledge that I can be rooted, albeit in a more extensive area. So as I set off with my little family tomorrow to explore the waterways we already know, and hopefully many we do not, I shall be considering what Staying Put means to these wandering feet, that hopefully will now get along a little better.