places that call us back

Among other places–and I’m trying to discover which ones–Ecole Champlain, the French camp in Vermont where I spent three summers–1970, 1971, 1972–is a place that now seems mysterious to me, as if it’s withholding secrets instead of holding memories.

In an interesting symmetry, I have now revisited three times as an adult–in October of 1996, in July of 2001, and a week ago, on July 3rd–this last time with more openness and intention than the other times. Curiously I think this openness comes from writing over the last six months without intention.

It’s as if there’s a surface that I’m trying to get below or a window I’m trying to see through.

In a recent post, Lindsey at A Design So Vast, wrote about the spaces that hold our memories:

Sometimes physical space seems so mute, so indifferent; it surprises me that somehow the important moments that have transpired in a place don’t remain there, echoing, animate, alive somehow. Maybe they do. Occasionally, in returning to a place that hosted an important moment in my life, I can feel that moment, hovering, bumping into me, invisible to the eye but not to the spirit.

During this next week, I hope to write more about my return to this place and why some places call to us from the past, why they draw us back as they do.

Do you have places that call you back?

1st post in 4-part series on
Ecole Champlain:
Part 1: places that call us back
Part 2: hoping to discover
Part 3: proof
Part 4: writing my way there

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27 thoughts on “places that call us back

  1. I know just what you mean … (and what an honor to see my words here).
    The surface we are trying to get past, scratching at the glass, trying to peer through.
    I look forward to hearing about your thoughts on this issue of place and memory.
    xo

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    • Lindsey, thanks for writing those words in your post on the Exeter chapel. That post gave me the nudge I needed to pay more attention to the desire to go back to certain places and to what I’m hoping to find once I’m there.

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  2. Strangely, the place that calls me back most is the house I grew up in in a not so romantically gorgeous setting. It was a cookie cutter house in a cookie cutter neighborhood, but it pulls me in and even was the model for my protagonist’s childhood home in the novel I’m working on. When I have dreams of my family being under one roof again, it’s there, in that house, which would not catch a second glance from anyone. We lived in a few different places, some with a lot more character than that house, but I’m always drawn back there. I don’t know. Guess that time left a strong impression.

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    • Hey Cristina, my guess is that this strong connection has nothing to do with beauty but with something else altogether. Have you been back since you were an adult?

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  3. Ojai calls me back for many reasons. I moved a lot as a kid and I spent the most time there: four years the 1st time and ten years the 2nd time. Those are like lifetimes considering the rate in which we relocated.

    But its scents are what calls me the most: orange blossoms, jasmine, pine, oak, distant coastal air, blended with mountains (blended with horses). If I smell any one of those familiar scents somewhere not there, I want to cry because I’m not.

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    • Tricia, it’s amazing how fast a scent can take us back. With my camp, it was a smell I couldn’t identify until this trip–that of freshly cut hay. Just as with Cristina, I’m curious if you’ve been back as an adult?

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      • Yes, in fact I was just there over July 4th weekend. My parents live there but, sadly, are moving out of the area. I won’t be able to visit as much when they leave. Dang.

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        • I was just wondering if some part of what made us want to go back to these places was because we had limited access to them; but from the comments, I now believe that doesn’t have anything to do with it. Thanks, Tricia.

          Be sure to take some pictures before they move : )

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  4. I’m not so sure about a place, Cynthia, and that makes me feel a bit sad. Sometimes I think wistfully about my maternal grandmother’s home in Hollywood, and how I used to play a kind of imaginary house with miniature (dolls?) at the foot of a special tree across the street. The roots had developed in such a way that they made a unique “place” for my imagination.

    Another place was the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles. Unlike today’s, this one is a real place, still standing, but when I went you could occasionally glimpse movie stars. Having lunch there was incredibly special and you wandered amid the food and other stalls. A kind of woman’s day as it were.

    The third place came later, in my thirties, but it was my parents’ cabin at Lake Arrowhead. I spent a fair amount of time up there, and the trees, the water, the bay, always had a mysterious effect on me. I miss it, but even if they still owned it the place has changed so much it wouldn’t have that same effect.

    Sadly, I don’t think I have a place that calls me back as you and Lindsay describe.

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    • Lauren, the place under the tree sounds wonderful. Your description made me remember that in grammar school I used to play with my best friend in her grandmother’s small sewing room–all the buttons and hem-rippers and scraps were such fun.

      What is interesting is that you have no desire to revisit these places–which could mean you left nothing behind, you were completely in the moment when you were there…or what? I don’t know. Were any of these places far away from where you lived?

      Thanks so much for letting me know that not everyone has these places–another little clue to put in the pot.

      I miss Bibliobuffet. Hope to catch up with everything by the end of the week!

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  5. The old farmhouse where I fell in love with my husband has called me back. We raised three boys in that house. It’s in disrepair now, and I’ve just started fixing it up. Some days I return home (where we now live) sad and out of sorts, mourning my youth, my boys’ childhoods. Mostly, the old house has taught me that I cannot grasp a single moment of this fleeting life.

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    • Oh, Darrelyn, maybe that’s what this is all about for me–wanting to capture something that cannot be captured. Or as you put it so well, making peace with the fact “that I cannot grasp a single moment of this fleeting life.”

      And did I already know that you had 3 boys too?

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  6. This is an interesting post…. I am always really intrigued by place in writing (and in memory). To me, place is a character, even if it’s one that, upon revisiting, you’ve invented. Would love to hear more about your visit to your old camp. These photos are full of mystery.

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  7. Yes, two places. One is my grandparents’ Kentucky farm. No one lives there anymore; the house is not even there, but a part of me is. The innocent child in me, I suppose. And probably for the same reason, I’m drawn to the house I lived in from third to ninth grade, and though I was very ill for the last years we lived there, it’s still a magical place to me. And one common element that draws me to both places is memories of dawn. Beginnings.

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  8. Love that quote from Lindsey. Reminds me of the passage from To the Lighthouse when Cam, sailing out in the boat, looks back at their house and feels like she can see all the knotted ghosts of their childhood selves racing around the yard.

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  9. Wonderful post!

    It’s the places from childhood that become so deeply embedded in us. For me, it’s Stony Brook, a small village on the north shore of Long Island. Although I grew up in Queens, New York, my grandparents owned a summer cottage in Stony Brook and over the course of each summer all of their grandchildren were cycled through spending at least a week with them.

    I’ve used my memories of Stony Brook and the surrounding area as the setting for a cycle of short stories that I’ve been writing for the past few years. The characters and plots are made up, as I didn’t actually grow up there, but the place is all sense memory.

    I wrote my own blog post about it:

    Stony Brook Again

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    • Fred, thanks for your comment. I’ve heard of Stony Book but never been there. Have you been back as an adult? Maybe you answer that question in your post, which I’m headed over to read…

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      • When we were first married, my wife an I lived in Sound Beach, which is near Stony Brook. By that time, my grandparents had passed away. My father had retired and my parents were now living in the cottage, which had been expanded. By the time they had both passed away, we were living here in Maryland. Neither my sisters nor I had any practical use for the house, so we sold it. I haven’t been back to Stony Brook since then, which was 2001.

        I’m driving up to Massachusetts next month for yet another memorial service for my late uncle. Your post and this comment thread is making me think I should take a detour on my way there.

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  10. Yes, the home I grew up in, where my parents still live today, it calls to me still. I go there weekly (0r more often) with my children and find it strange the memories I have of my own childhood meshed with that of my own children’s experiences. Two intersecting circles, overlapping, parallel in places, and yet distinct.

    I love Lindsey, I’m a fan of her & her blog and smiled to see you quote her here (it is such a small blog world!). It is a reminder that I need to clear out my mental clutter to absorb more of her deep thoughts. She is profound.

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    • Terresa, I got a strong visual of overlapping images reading about you watching your children in the place where you were a child. I also imagine that would spark an entirely different set of thoughts to assimilate.

      How fun that you already knew Lindsey when you read her words here. It is a small blog world.

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  11. Pingback: it’s been another year | catching days

  12. Pingback: the next writer in the series: february 1, 2014 | catching days

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