Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Home, not Home

One day in July I arrived on Tech’s campus for a meeting and to submit some paperwork. I opened my car door, looked across the street, and immediately recognized a former student, John, who asked, astonished, “What are YOU doing here?” We held a brief reunion, discussed my new job, his new degree and future plans, and wished each other well. A familiar face tempered my anxiety, and I felt almost at home. The first weekend in August, I moved into our small house, and, since then, I have been exploring, seeking a feeling for people and place.

Farmer's Market Findings
This past weekend was my first one here in Blacksburg. I am alone until the end of the month and trying to find a sense of home in this new place and space—as a person and as a teacher, too. On Saturday morning, I visited the bi-weekly farmer’s market, which, astonishingly, is bigger than the one where I lived in Berkeley Springs.  All the vegetables, fruits, baked goods, meat, eggs, and other products there are produced within a 50 mile radius of Blacksburg, so the market truly offers a sense of what is local, what it means to be here. I walked around, talked to vendors and organizers, sampled some apples, and purchased much of my food for the week.

I almost felt at home. The locals here speak an Appalachian twang similar to but also different from the dialect I know—like the difference between the Ginger Gold and the Johnathan apples I sampled at the market this morning. Both are sweet, both familiar, but different in texture, tone, and tartness. The conversations I had echoed of home, and of the market I remember. I bought a bunch of rainbow chard, and the vendor gave me a second one for free; “Grab two,” she said, sweeping her braid behind her shoulder, “we have a lot this week.” I thought of Rachel, my former student, who works on her family farm and always saved apples aside for me in the Fall; Honeycrisp, my favorite, always sold quickly at the farmer’s market in the Springs.

On Sunday, I found trails to run at Pandapas Pond. These trails are more populated than those I ran in and around Morgan County, but they’re muddy and forested and full of twists, rocks, and roots. My legs strained against the sharp turns and steep climbs, and, in a way, moving through the woods in Jefferson National Forest felt like home. I looped around the pond, watched by grumbling geese, then worked my way up the hills and back down, an hour sweating in the trails. I remembered the bear who frequently I saw at Cacapon State Park when I ran trails there, the way I would glimpse his fat rear crashing away through the brush as I rounded a bend. I recalled the ladyslipper orchids that cover one stretch of trails there in the spring. I hope to find the same sense of wonder here that made me feel so at home in Morgan County. And these experiences are signs, it seems, that I will.

Yet still, I feel slightly out of place—I am exploring place and program, trying to understand what it means to be here now and what my role will be professionally. In shaping my new life here, I am also shaping my teacherly self, settling into a sense of home that I hope will spiral out to my classroom practice. Brooke (2003) writes that “rich” learning is “tied to and flow[s] from local culture, “ since “Local communities, regions, and histories are the places where we shape our individual lives...” (p. 4). In seeking my own sense of place (physical, personal, and professional) connected to this new space, I am working to conceptualize myself as a learner and teacher at home (not yet home), here, in Blacksburg. This ripples out from me and toward learning implications for my students, who come from here, and also for the students whom they will teach. I hope my classroom will come to feel like home, welcoming my students who also welcome me, reading and writing together, creating a sense of place, shaped by the lived space and community in which we learn.  And so, I head out again today—to explore, to play, to work, and to learn, in search of home.

Brooke, R. (2003). Introduction: Place-conscious education, rural schools, and the Nebraska writing project's rural voice, country schools team. In R. Brooke (Ed.), Rural voices: Place-conscious education and the teaching of writing (pp. 1-20). New York, NY: Teachers College Press. 

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