Reading the opening paragraphs of Mary Pipher’s “In Praise of Hometowns,” I am left reeling with the memories of my childhood forest. Nestled behind my family’s cabin in Door County Wisconsin, it was a place of wonder. From atop a boulder overlooking a sea of trees and an inlet of Lake Michigan, I created my own world. Whispering to the green leaves of summer and the barren branches of white winter, I told my secrets to the trees and interpreted the rustle of the wind as my reply.
Hours were spent jumping across fallen tree trunks and naming squirrels. From just the right spot, you could see the pair of majestic nesting Eagles as they returned from their day of hunting at sunset. When my 3 best friends came to visit thrones were made of forest floor debris, and we all became queens. We spent long afternoons laying in beds of moss and grass, dappled in leaf filtered sun and free of fear. Just like the feeling Ms. Pipher describes as she steps out into the tall grasses of the prairie, we felt “at home.” I grew up in an upper middle class suburb, immersed in an idyllic childhood filled with opportunities. I could talk about the sidewalk squares of that village and the stories they’ve come to tell, the significance of the 4th of July celebration that occurs every year, or the pressures of parents and a top notch high school, but I find that my moments of greatest clarity and understanding of myself and my place in the world were found beneath those trees. In this sense, they were even more my “home” than the 4 walls of my tudor style house.
Today, I can’t visit that spot in the woods anymore. Where my boulder once sat, a multi-million dollar mansion has been built–equipped with lake views and declared “prime real estate.” I have watched my friendly trees be torn from the ground, and the eagles we used to search for at dusk are nowhere to be found.
I identify too with the portions of this article that point out a new kind of human being– one “who is plugged into machines instead of relationships, one who lives in a virtual reality rather than a family”(134). At that same cabin, where full days were spent lounging in the grass, there are now 3 televisions, wireless internet, and fully equipped cable TV. Though I do enjoy the convenience of all of this connectedness, the cabin is no longer a place of escape. There are still family game nights and trips to the beach and plenty of bonding, but there are also moments when we are all in separate rooms on our computers or planted in front of different TV shows–isolated by the “luxuries” or technology.
Next time, I’ll spend some more time with the trees.