My purest happiness exists at my cabin baking peanut butter cookies while Lauryn Hill plays from the speaker that sits on the piano. There is always a crispness to the outside air and a muffled hum of coyotes in the forest across the gravel pathway, but confined by the (not so sturdy) wooden infrastructure of this tiny shack is where I’ve always felt most safe.
I’ve been going to this cabin since I was a baby, my family for three generations before me. My most formative experiences have taken place there. As a kid, it was where I was told my parents were separating and where I learned to knit and cook. Later on, it was where I felt the preteen adrenaline of sneaking out to swim at night and waiting to see the sun rise over the grassy hills at dawn. It was where I first grappled with grief, and then with heartbreak.
There’s something special about all of the cabin’s quirks: mismatched cutlery, bright yellow shutters, and a distinct mustiness that permeated all of the linens, which I later realized was just the lingering stench of my dad’s stale hash from the 80s. It’s always been like a good pair of jeans, stretching and adapting to fit whatever stage of life I entered, generally forgiving of my flaws.
I feel similarly about Toronto, where my dad and I have a special frisbee field we discovered off of a bike trail when I was five and a South Indian restaurant in our neighbourhood where the servers know to make my bharta without cream. Or Montreal, where I can always tell direction by the cross on the mountain and where the old man who owns my favourite postcard store once made me promise “never to settle for any bullshit relationships”.
I’ve found that connections to places are eerily similar to the intimacy of relationships between people.
I’ve found that connections to places are eerily similar to the intimacy of relationships between people. Growing attached to physical locations forces a comparable vulnerability: places bring us joy and cause us pain, we form routines around them, we rely on them for resources and support, and we hope for a sense of permanence that they will always be there. Oftentimes, we seek comfort in them but fear to be too comfortable, wary of when it might be time to move on.
At an age of such turbulence, life is punctuated by in-betweens. Things change too much and are too stagnant all at once. I spend half of my time convinced I am a mature adult and the other half wishing I could lie on my frisbee field indefinitely and forgo every impending responsibility. The only way to find stability in this chaos is to hold on to the things that anchor us back to remembering who we are. Though this also takes form in my relationships with people, I find it to be most prominent in my relationships with places.
There are nuances to bonding with inanimate entities. It’s hard to recognize when you can work on fixing things and when you have to break up. I left Montreal not because I didn’t love it, but because I knew it wasn’t good for me. I miss it every day – the parks, the bagel shop, the bookstores. They determined how I oriented myself in the city. My internal map was carefully constructed by the distance between certain spots and my feet walked me everywhere from muscle memory. It’s weird not to feel that familiarity anymore.
I’ve learned the places I love might not love me back at times.
I question what to hold onto throughout these ongoing transitions. I’ve learned the places I love might not love me back at times, and that no matter where I am, there is always somewhere that I miss. There are parts of us all in the places that we’ve come and gone from just as there are parts of these places in us.
Recently I went to the cabin with my cousin and it felt just like when we were little kids. We ate spaghetti under the big willow tree while playing Boggle and talked about changes in our lives, how time moves both too fast and too slow. I went to sleep in my twin bunk bed while the adults drunkenly sang Jewish folk music on the porch, and even though I had an incense stick burning, the room still just smelled like my dad’s stale hash from the 80s.
Here is an ode to the places that I love. Rather than longing for their tangible presence, I am resolving to fold their lessons into my pocket as I go through life, appreciative of how they have shaped me and grounded in their invisible company when I feel lost in the vastness of everything else. An awkward beauty exists in nostalgia when seeing how even though most things do change, a few stay the exact same.
Though there are trials and tribulations to loving places so profoundly, I’ve discovered that when they grow to be a part of you, you can always go back home again.