I grew up 2,325 miles from where I live.
I don’t have that number memorized. Google told me, after I entered my two home addresses — one in Hillsdale, Michigan and one in Newberg, Oregon. The number popped up along with two warning symbols followed by yellow text: “This road has tolls,” and “Your destination is in a different time zone.” It takes about 35 hours of driving, or 12 hours of flying, to make the trip.
That’s a long way, even in our world shrunk by airplanes, cell phones, and the internet. I love Hillsdale College, and I’m glad I made the journey; and yet there is something unnatural about pulling your roots out of the place that they grew, shaking off the dirt, and tossing yourself across the country.
It used to take people five months and the risk of death by dysentery to travel the Oregon Trail (the historical one, not the computer game). Maybe some “Lord of the Rings” perspective will help: According to Imgur user “mattsawizard,” Frodo and Sam walked 1,350 miles to get from the Shire to Mordor. The distance from Newberg to Hillsdale is basically like walking to Mt. Doom — and back again.
In her novel “Daniel Deronda,” George Eliot writes, “A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge.” In another novel, “Mill on the Floss,” she continues, “We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it…What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known, and loved because it is known?”
She’s right. There’s nothing like your childhood home to bring sensory memories crowding around you. I remember the rhododendrons, sticky with pollen; the smell of sawdust in a home under construction; the tingling white bumps on my wrist from the nettles threatening our expedition up the creek. George Eliot would be proud.
Since the Victorian age, other voices have taken up the cry for our childhood homes. One of the most emphatic is Wendell Berry, the novelist, essayist, and poet, and the foremost proponent of agrarian localism in America. In 2016, Two Birds Film released a documentary called “Look and See” about Berry and his philosophy. The trailer flicks through images of bulldozers and cities, airplanes and iPhones. Berry’s slow, strong, salt-of-the-earth voice speaks his own poetry over the images: “Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw there was only fear and no foretelling, / for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake / of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted. / Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.”
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now. Isn’t that the fear, and the truth, of every college student who goes home for the summer? Home is home, and it is not home. Things have shifted. Restaurants close, schools move, roads change with never-ending construction, people go on with their lives without you, just as you have gone on with your life without them.
Berry sees something true about this world of ours: Preserving childhood homes is not high on a developer’s list of priorities. And maybe that’s a tragedy. But there’s something about life — about growing up — that changes everyone’s childhood home, whether it remains physically the same or not. Maybe the imperceptible changes in our homes are compounded by the imperceptible changes within us. Education and experience won’t let your home remain the same.
On May 12, I will graduate. I’ll go back to Newberg. I’ll look and see the things that are familiar and the things that have changed.
And I’ll take these roots of mine and plant them once again.
Ellen Sweet is a senior studying English