What I miss

“Do you miss England?”
you ask, or
“Does Canada feel like home?”
and my tongue and heart twist
in attempted response,
always convoluted, shifting,
the story I try to tell
torn
first between people,
and also between where I am planted
(through house, work, purpose, community)
and the land of my roots.

It’s past midnight
when we return from seven weeks of travel
to our silent, musty house.
Everything is as we left it
but slightly strange.
The kitchen’s low-beamed ceiling
bears down on me
as I walk to the sink.
I reach easily, unconsciously,
for a water glass
but then am surprised
by the selection of shapes and sizes.
For a moment in time I am
not quite at home
in my own home,
experiencing the paradoxical nature of familiarity,
which can be both created
and disrupted
by daily repetition.

My home country
is similarly familiar yet alien to me
when I return after years away.
There are things I’ve forgotten
through absence of repetition,
and so much that has changed
in over a decade
– new towns, new roads,
and the old roads crammed
with more cars than is reasonable.
But as we slow down one day
(another traffic jam
on another winding country lane)
I am captivated
by the burgeoning hedgerow we are passing,
which seems to sweetly summon recognition
from deep within my bones.
I see hawthorn and fragrant honeysuckle
tangled through
with bramble and ivy
and the radiant white heads of bindweed,
crowned with bolting beech, elder,
and the surprise of delicate hazel,
feathered below with bracken, cow parsley and
– I strain to name the ragged, pink flowers –
is it campion?

There is a quiet delight
in knowing these plants,
like a long-awaited family reunion,
or as if, in naming them,
I prove I still belong here.
It’s true that our home’s blazing
orange daylilies
and towering maple trees
greet me like old friends
after a long separation,
but so much of Canada’s wildlife
remains unknown or exotic to me
(there is a different pleasure
in that foreign wildness)
and I wonder,
am I also unknown to it,
can I ever fully belong?

I know that belonging,
like familiarity,
is formed largely by time and choice,
but if you ask what I miss,
I think I can tell you now.
I miss the green, wayside witnesses
to my childhood,
the plants my parents helped me
to notice and name;
and I am sad not to have passed on
this generational knowledge to my own daughter.
Grateful for the wide, wild land
where I am now planted and nourished,
my roots still reach back
to the soil in which they first grew,
interlaced with the roots of bramble, beech and bracken,
hungry for the deeper sense of continuity
and belonging that grows there too.
So my answer to your question
may be strange or incomplete,
but it is the only answer that I have:
I miss the hedgerows.

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