This post has been a long time coming. One afternoon back in late January I was sitting by Morgan Creek thinking about the idea of “settling” and what that really meant to me at the moment. Keith and I had been talking about whether we should keep renting an apartment that would keep us mobile and able to pick up and move anywhere, anytime — or buy a house and put down some roots again. We were waffling, wondering, and just not quite sure what to do. Yet we had – for the first time in six years – starting talking about settling down into a house of our own again. That had to be a sign, I thought.
Now, there’s two kinds of settling. The kind of settling that means you’re giving up on a bigger goal, idea, or a perfect-something in order to have something good, but not necessarily what you really want. This kind of settling feels sort of impotent, like you’ve tried but not succeeded, so you’re willing to settle for a lesser choice. The kind of settling that prompts your conscience to say, “don’t settle, you deserve better”! Settling in this way sometimes resolves an issue, but it never seems quite right. It feels squishy, malleable, vulnerable, sad.
Then there’s the kind of settling that means putting down roots, finding the perfect soul mate, making a lifelong commitment, or buying a home or a piece of land that you can call yours for the forseeable future and then some. That kind of settling is a big commitment and generally feels powerful, purposeful, and positive. It’s tied to the long-term and usually requires a major commitment of time, energy, and resources. It feels solid and strong and (hopefully) happy.
What kind of settling were we thinking about? Were we giving up on our dream of returning to the west coast? Were we missing the deeper connection to a piece of land we own and work where we could see changes and make memories through the seasons and years? Were we just feeling in limbo and wanting some stability in our lives? Were we looking for a distraction from the realities of our obligations?
Sitting by that creek in the woods with no humans in sight, I thought about the First People who settled upon that land thousands of years ago. I thought about how they knew it so well they could survive off of the land and creek and the creatures and plants that shared it with them. They were settled into a life deeply connected to this place, dependent upon the land, and committed to supporting themselves. I thought about the colonists who uprooted those First Peoples and carved their own stories into the land. Settlers all, searching for a better life, a place to call home.
After that visit to the creek, Keith and I made lists of what we thought we were looking for, where we might want to live, and what we’d do when we got there. We clarified why we were searching, why we wanted to settle, what we were settling for. We started driving around neighborhoods and looking at houses for sale. Nothing felt quite right, but I knew we’d know the right place when we saw it. I figured it would speak to us somehow.
Then we found out about a place for sale in an area we liked. We made arrangements to see it as soon as it was available to show. We loved it immediately. The house was beautiful, but the land spoke to us. A piece of a meadow, a forest, a creek, a yard begging for us to fill it with native plants. We put in an offer and closed the deal. The coronavirus came. We were anxious. We couldn’t wait to get to our new place in the country – away from people, secluded, and safe. We moved in all by ourselves during the stay-at-home orders, and this idea of settling became clearer.
We didn’t waste any time starting a vegetable garden, planting native plants (thanks to generous friends), removing invasive plants by the creek, and spending every moment paying attention to the wild things living here – bluebirds, phoebes, red-shouldered hawks, pileated woodpeckers, brown snakes, five-lined racers, Cope’s gray treefrogs, persimmon trees, spicebush, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, sumac, deer flies!, and so much more. In a few short weeks, this place has become home. We’re connecting. We’re sending down roots. We’re settling.
We were clearly ready to settle – not as a consolation prize, but as a long-term commitment. We were ready to be a part of a special place, to live off the land, to once again find joy in being cohabitants of a land that offers us purpose and strength. We’ve named our place Pokeberry Pines, because the little creek on our property is a tributary of Pokeberry Creek, and our home is surrounded by pine trees.
We know that ownership is relative and fleeting – we may own this land in the eyes of the law, but we know we are only borrowing it as temporary inhabitants for a time. In reality, it owns us and provides for us, and – if we are wise and attentive – teaches us how to live as stewards, caretakers, partners during the time we are here with it. So, we are settling…for good, in more ways than we can count.