My grandparents were green thumbs who made even the stubbornest of plants bear fruit. Lolo had two odd trees in this tropical paradise. He grew an apple tree, and beside it a pear tree out of the remains of some fruit. Being the youngest in the family, I never tasted the pear but I did hear stories of how the tree bore fruit one month, to the surprise of everyone else. The apple, on the other hand, tasted sour and grew only as big as my nine-year-old palm. It was a joy to watch Lolo draw it from the clasp of the tree.
Place holds a deep significance in understanding who we are. I knew this intuitively but only recently have I come across materials that suggest just how true this is. An article by Sandra Beasley over at Poetry Foundation triggered someone to share the words of William Stafford, On Being Local:
All events and experiences are local, somewhere. And all human
enhancements of events and experiences — all the arts — are regional
in the sense that they derive from immediate relation to felt life.
It is this immediacy that distinguishes art. And paradoxically the more
local the feeling in art, the more all people can share it; for that vivid
encounter with the stuff of the world is our common ground.
Artists, knowing this mutual enrichment that extends everywhere, can
act, and praise, and criticize, as insiders — the means of art is the life of
all people. And that life grows and improves by being shared. Hence, it is
good to welcome any region you live in or come to, or think of, for that
is where life happens to be, right where you are.
Sure, but where am I really? Sometimes I grow in anxiety because mentally, I live in a time long gone. I am a child elsewhere in my imagination, back in this summer house cradled by mountains. When I am not pining for the love of my deceased grandparents, I am deeper still–nostalgic for a city I only visited in photos. Manila of the 20s and 30s seemed regal and so far away from today’s urban excesses. If not these times then I yearn for places I’ve been that are unreachable at present. I think of the rolling hills of Batanes and how, climbing them, ascending and descending, I feared I might fall off into the sea. There are the karst palaces that line the waters of the Calamianes Islands in Palawan. I think of the island of Culion and my first impressions upon visiting some years ago. It’s a land locked in time. There are other places: Hanoi, New York, Kimberley Lane, Hue, Brunei, Yogyakarta, Bali.
I cannot keep still and it’s beginning to show in the writing. I attempt to tell the story of the flowers in my childhood home but end up clumsily arranging memories of other places in my head.
Last night I stayed up thinking of how much I needed to save to take the train back to Southeast Asia from Europe via Russia and Central Asia. Time seemed to pass so quickly. By sunrise I was without sleep and without an answer.
Why are wanderers so anxious to be where they are not?