It has been a little more than a month since we got home. Our home, that is, in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, close to where we lived for almost 30 years before moving to Yellowstone. Yes, we had a home there too and while a bit alien at first, over the five years that we lived there we became more familiar with that amazing landscape and ecosystem. We developed a familiarity and comfort that caused us to call it home as well.
What does it mean to be truly be “home”? Various definitions point to that feeling of familiarity, the place where one lives, or ranges, or is rooted. A male grizzly bear’s home range can be 500 square miles. The home range, or territory of the red-eyed vireo now singing off my deck is probably less than 8 acres. After breeding season this little songbird flies “home?” to South America where it spends the winter. Where is its home?
In people we often call that familiarity, that feeling of “homeness”, a sense of place. I have worked toward the goal of developing within people a greater sense of place throughout my career. People’s sense of place is lacking in today’s world. Having connections to the places we call home helps us act as better caretakers of those places.
The feeling of coming home to the Smokies is about being rooted. The landscapes here are like the faces of old friends in a crowd. The deciduous forest is a place I know. The flora and fauna have names and stories that are in my head. I have family, and friends, and wonderful memories here. The smells, sounds, and feelings that the southern Appalachian mountains possess call to me deeply. I feel “at home”, a part of all that is this place.
And yet, I can say that it is not the only place that I feel at home or for which I have a deep sense of place. The western landscape has called to me regularly as well. After a summer job in Yellowstone in college we returned there and to other places in the northern Rockies numerous times on family trips. Our recent opportunity to work and live in Yellowstone again for a longer period of time allowed its landscape, plants and animals, climate and culture, the people, to become a part of us and us a part of them.
I know many people who say that that coming back to Yellowstone, or the Great Smokies, or fill in the blank, is like coming “home”. They may live somewhere else, have another homeplace, but there is still a sense of homecoming when they return to these special places. For some reason those places have gotten under their skin and into their souls. This is another reason we desperately need public lands. These wild and protected places call to us and feed us. They help us remember our roots, our needs, our connections. They reflect back to us, who we were and still need to be. They remind us that our home is this planet Earth and the many landscapes, ecosystems, and special places where we have ended up and become rooted for a time.
Where do you feel most at home?