Arts & Culture

Homeward Bound

The silver linings of staying put

When I was eleven, my parents sent me to a “nature” camp in the Virginia wilderness to learn how to scuba dive in an old flooded rock quarry, among other adventure-centric activities. This camp, and any other endeavor that involved leaving my house, filled me with dread. For my parents, it was a ripe opportunity to help me get over my fear of the big world beyond. I made it through the terrifying certification process, which involved swimming around sunken bulldozers, but that only took up the first few days of trials and tribulations. Every night, as summer thunderstorms poured rain onto my tent, I wrote postcards home emblazoned with missives in red pen: “This place is awful! Please, please, please come get me.” Same thing the next night. Finally, my Dad really did show up. He was there three hours before the other parents were allowed in, but I knew he would be, and I was cleaning latrines when I saw his car. I made a break for it like a scene out of The Shawshank Redemption: There was much sprinting and grabbing of stuff and slamming of car doors before we made our getaway.

As we lurched onto the highway in a cloud of dust and left it all behind, just the idea of being in my own bed with all the things around me that I loved (my books, a real bed, soft pajamas) made me cry huge, hot tears of gratitude. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, probably. 

This, folks, is how much I love to be at home. Even now, at nearly forty, I am exactly the same way. There is nothing that gives me more joy than being in the comfort of my house and garden with my family (while in my pajamas). So while many people during the pandemic are climbing the walls, I feel like I’ve been given the greatest gift, especially against the horrific backdrop of so much suffering and so much bravery and selflessness shown by the heroes on the front lines.

It is a privilege to be quarantined. It is a privilege to spend extra time with our two-year-old, to be able to work from home and still put a magazine out ahead of schedule, to get outside a little more and sit still a little more and cook a little more.

Is it easy to work and home-school at the same time? No. Is it enjoyable to worry constantly and watch others worry constantly about the state of their livelihoods during and after this thing is finally over? It is not. Is it lighthearted to wake up in the middle of the night bereft about your seventy-something Mom and Dad and their health during this crisis? Of course, the answer is no.

But to me, and maybe to others, that’s exactly why a moment spent photographing our daffodils blooming:

Or sneaking a snapshot of my husband, who is also the creative director of Garden & Gun, up at midnight working on layouts for the June/July issue in the office we now share:

Or noticing and appreciating sidewalk sentiments in our neighborhood (“Don’t worry, try not to”):

Or documenting a big tumble of local strawberries:

…have become such meaningful silver linings right now.

Even things I typically bellyache about, such as the state of our derelict backhouse (that we will one day replace with a much-needed addition), I see differently. Two mornings ago, I got up early to jog, and when I huffed my way to our driveway, I realized that after years of training star jasmine to cover the aforementioned falling-down structure in order to create an entirely green little outbuilding, it’s really working. And it made me happy.

I wasn’t crying with joy like I was leaving camp for home, but I experienced that same feeling of gratitude—for this beautiful mess of perfection and imperfection that is our life in the here and now. A life we owe to people far, far beyond our fence line.

Of course, I’m not the only one searching for bright spots. In a recent Talk of the South newsletter, we asked readers to share the best things they’ve discovered about their own homes during self-quarantine. Below are some of the responses. 

“I bought this little house of just two bedrooms and a single bath after my wife died. Right now, as I type this in my ‘office,’ the morning sun is pouring in. And that is one of the wonderful things that really gets me as I hang alone: light. Every room has marvelous light pouring in.” —Bob G.

“Living on a lagoon and watching the water animals, and discovering my home is just the right size, even though small. It is what is around me outside that is more important than the size of my house.” —Pam H.

“We moved into a new-to-us house that was built in 1981 in Marietta, Georgia. I’m enjoying the daily surprise of a plant coming out of the ground for spring. Yesterday, I had three hosta plants. I dug them up, and now there are ten.” —Vickie F.

“That I love it even more everyday. We built it fifty-three years ago, and it’s loved by three generations. There is no better place to ‘shelter in place.’” —Anne H.

“My postage-stamp patio garden is my respite. Social distance be damned here—I can feel each flower, pet soft succulents, and pull a few weeds. The touch of living, growing, thriving bodies of chlorophyll help compensate for the touch of loved ones I miss.” —Marilyn D.

“The beautiful music of the songbirds. I’ve also discovered how much they sing at night. I don’t know if it’s because of the quiet or because I’m just more in tune with them. It’s so peaceful and comforting, and such a gift.” —Kristi G.

“The favorite thing about home is my garden. Everything reminds me of a friend who shared a plant, loves a certain plant, is part of a colorful story about the architecture/ accoutrements of the garden. I am surrounded by the beauty of friendships!” —Skeet L.

This article appears in the June/July 2020 issue of Garden & Gun. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.