When I came up here to Aerie to mark off the corners for the contractor to dig the footings for the house, my father and son both came with me. Michael was just three at the time and climbed the stacks of logs and other materials, using the brand-new shed as a fort. My father and I held opposite ends of a long measuring tape and put pre-marked sticks in the ground.
We talked about the drive up—it was a Saturday—noting how it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be from Virginia Beach.
“This place really is centrally located,” I reminded him. “About an hour and a half to the beach, about an hour to Richmond, two fifteen to DC, and two and a half to the mountains. Plus a river and a bay.” We had a great time that day and had lunch in Deltaville before driving back across three bridges, one tunnel, and two interstates to his house.
A few weeks later I was fiddling around the property while waiting for a delivery of stones, and a neighbor walked up the long, winding driveway to introduce himself. Roland and I talked for hours about where we were from, and he filled me in on some of the local places to eat. Then he said, “You know, Bob, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we’re really centrally located here.”
“Yes, I know,” I said. “My father and I were just talking about that not long ago.”
He nodded and said, “Yep, the village is only three miles from here, and there’s an Exxon/711 about two miles the other way next to a bank. And if you don’t mind a really good, pretty drive when gas isn’t that high, Urbanna has some nice shops and is about fifteen miles from here. I head over there once a month or so.”
Here’s how I deal with the “So where do you live?” question:
When I’m in Deltaville: “Down Mill Creek toward the river and duck pond.”
When I’m in Virginia Beach: “Deltaville” (technically, “Wake,” but most people understand the much larger though still miniscule Deltaville).
When I’m in western Virginia: “Where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake.”
When I’m in New York or Florida: “Virginia,” but if they’re also from Virginia, “Middlesex County, half hour northeast of Gloucester out near the Bay.”
When I’m in Europe: “the United States.” If they know the States, then I’ll add “Virginia.” Once, an annoying Russian salesman kept asking, “Where are you from specifically?” So I said, “Down the end of Mill Creek near the river.” He said he didn’t know where that was, and my friend Mike said, “Are you kidding?? Everyone else around here in the market knew exactly where that is!”
But usually, just “The States.”
I suppose if I were on the International Space Station I could say, “Down there. Now. No, wait….Now.”
This relative form of measurement works beyond geography. A dear friend of mine died at twenty-seven. Did he know that at twenty-six he was already, relatively speaking, an old man? When my father was my age he still had nearly thirty years left. More often than not I feel closer to ninety than sixty, but then I haven’t looked at my medical map in a while, so I could just be near a rest stop still as close to my thirty-year-old son’s birth as my own death.
The farther away from a place we are, the more abstract it seems. If I look at my house from the sky, I might notice a swirl of trees with endless green all year from the pines and holly. Then a brown roof on the house at the end of a long scar through the woods to the road. But when I’m standing on the front porch, I see how badly I need to re-stain the logs, how much I have neglected the driveway turns, and how much fallen debris remains in the woods. I am more engulfed by the property and the home when I’m here, of course. It floods me, making it hard to see much else. I don’t mind—it is one of the reasons I live here.
But lately I’ve been realizing that my mind needs to be more centrally located. I can drift too close sometimes to melancholy or even bouts of depression—I don’t necessarily mind as they remind me of what a beautiful journey it has been so far and help keep people who I have loved and lost close to my heart. Likewise, being so engulfed in nature here as I am, I often find myself not too far from some state of presence—in the moment and appreciating every aspect of nature. The river and the bay are my companions, the woods too. This brings me peace and often I can come quite close to some euphoric state.
But if I move too close to one or the other for too long, or too far away, I find myself in a state of confusion and worry. Lost. My balance is thrown off and I can easily fall into the terrain of regret and sorrow, or the Oz-like, false sense of safety that comes from a mind at peace. I need both, but I would like them equally at arm’s length—close enough to find, far enough away to avoid.
When I’m here on the river for too long, I need to go. I get restless and I need to head out—see more, discover more. It is simply my DNA and I don’t know how else to explain it. Florida, Prague, Spain, the Rockies. But after being on the road a bit I almost can’t breathe right until I’m sitting on the rocks on the Rappahannock, watching the sun slide away again, listening to the geese or the osprey.
When I was young, we moved from our home in one county on the Island to another. We returned a few times to visit friends on the block, but rarely. It was so far away that it might as well have been in Topeka. Geez, it was only twenty-one miles away! When I leave my driveway now, I drive further than that just to get to the first stoplight. But back then, distance was measured in necessity, and if we didn’t have a need to go back, we didn’t.
Me, well, I always have a need to go back, even just for a little while. It’s only dangerous if you go back and stay there, unable to cut the tethers. But I’m careful enough to make sure I’m looking ahead as well, appreciating the anticipation, spying as much on hope as what was.