How do you learn to love a place?

It takes years, a few winters at least — but you learn its contours, its low places. The hardness of the frozen earth. The dry brown stalks of fennel that still stand tall in the herb garden. The curious silhouette of the leafless locust trees. The cooper’s hawk, the white pine, bluebirds, red squirrel. You walk every day with your dogs and you know all the places they linger, where rabbits wear trails in the undergrowth and leave their tracks in the snow. You circle your garden and even though it is not time for digging you know what it is like to sit between the rows and work with your bare hands and your trowel, how the soil will be soft and cold in the spring when it’s time to get the onions in.

It doesn’t happen right away. At first, you feel you don’t belong. You’ve moved six times in less than ten years and you don’t remember what belonging feels like. You haven’t let yourself think about home in a long time. Maybe never. The rooms in this house are not your own, and you don’t know where you’d go if you needed a good cry. This place is big and strange and you’re the latecomer. Chainsaws terrify you. You have a hard time with the rusty padlock on the door at the back of the barn. You’ve never mowed a lawn in your life — nevermind the overwhelming expanse of unruly meadows like here. But you settle in anyway, as best you can, and you learn what the light is like in the late afternoon as it streams through your favorite window. You know just how the creek will overflow its banks after a cold December rainstorm. The bright moon dazzles you, the first time you see it smiling down from the kitchen skylight. Across almost a score of seasons you work outdoors, you paint the living room purple, you unpack your things, until you find you can’t imagine yourself anyplace else.

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