Yesterday was my birthday. As a gift to myself, I went on a journey. At first it was a search for the first colors of fall, but it became a pilgrimage to my past. My original destination was a state park near Ithaca, NY hoping to take pictures of the fall foliage but few of their trees had begun the change. Instead of driving straight home, I detoured to Homer, NY where members of my family have lived for generations. That is where I found my first true colors of fall, but also a bit of myself.
I found myself at the cemetery where many family members rest, some I had known most I had not. I spent more than an hour wandering among the gravestones reading names. Many of the names I remembered hearing in stories told by my grandparents and others of the older generations. The dates ranged from recent years to the 1700’s. For a while I sat among the stones of those who had gone before listening to the wind as it whispered through the pines over my head. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what the valley had been like when my ancestors first arrived.
My family has lived America’s history but you will not find their names in the history books. They are the farmers, the teachers and the everyday workers that this country was built on. They tilled the land when it was still the western frontier, nourishing it with their sweat and blood. They raised their children teaching and instructing about God and the world around them. Some were missionaries ministering to those who lived far from that little valley in Central New York. Some served as soldiers in the Revolutionary War and in the wars that followed. Some gave their lives, others returned home and giving their lives to the land, to their children and to the generations that would follow.
After leaving the cemetery, I drove to a piece of that land that held many memories for me. ‘The Pond’ has been a central point in family gatherings since before I was born. Its shore has hosted countless bonfires and family picnics. Its cool waters have refreshed untold numbers of sweaty children, the surrounding hills echoing with laughter. Yesterday, it was quiet, the waters calm, only the gentle breeze gave voice to the memories that lingered there. I walked around the pond and into the woods beyond where I had explored as a child.
Here, I could imagine what the hill had looked like nearly 200 years before. Here, little had changed. Here, I felt my roots sink into the leaf blanketed ground and join with the roots of those who had paved the way. I don’t know how long I wandered in those woods, but when I came out again, I had changed. . . Just a bit, a piece of my spirit that had been lost and unsure of my place in the world had found a home.