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Place and Identity

Given this day,
Right now
To ponder;
Yesterday will not return,
Who knows about tomorrow?

— Awa Kenzo, Zen Bow, Zen Arrow

Yesterday, in one of those only in New England moments, I cleared the lawn of leaves, mowed the lawn neatly halfway across, and in a glance up and behind me witnessed thousands of leaves raining down at once, literally released before my eyes and twirling down onto the lawn that was pristine moments before. I laughed out loud, shook my head and kept mowing the part of the lawn I hadn’t finished yet. Everyone here knows that clearing fallen leaves is a process. The only folks who clear once are those who wait until December, when the risk of early snow or wet leaves frozen to the grass could well be your ruin.

I used to pay someone to do fall cleanup. His team did a great job too, but I stopped using him when I started mowing my own lawn. This wasn’t an act of frugality, it was an attempt to get back in touch with the plot of land I call home. For I’d completely lost touch with the place and felt the absence profoundly. No such problem now—I’ve become reacquainted with the land. Perhaps overly familiar at times.

I’m an avid traveller and aspire to see more of this world, but in each place I’m but another soul passing through, taking some photos to remember the place by and (sometimes) writing about it in this blog. Each day spent in the yard or garden is a day not spent doing something appealing elsewhere. And yet the yard and garden have their own appeal.

The question is, where do we spend our days? Right now is all we have, so why spend it maintaining a yard instead of hiking a mountain or taking a long walk on the beach on a warm October day? Because this is the stuff of life too. I’m just another soul passing through this plot of land too. But I’m also its custodian. The trees thrive on my watch—who’s to say whether they’ll survive the whims of the next homeowner less inclined to spend their Saturdays clearing leaves?

Yesterday will not return. Who knows about tomorrow? All we can do is make the most of our today, in whatever way adds meaning to our moments. Even if we have to repeat it all again next weekend. Working to maintain the land honors both place and identity. We learn that it’s not just the land that is maintained in our ritual of labor.

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