There are few things I like better than riding trains by myself. Lucky for me, I got plenty of time to do that during my ancestral pilgrimage to England, Scotland, Ireland, and France the summer of 2017. After three weeks in England, I took the train from London to Ayr, Scotland.
On the long ride, I journaled, people watched, listened to music, and witnessed the landscape transform before my eyes. On one part of my journey, where I watched flatlands turn to rolling hills and mountains, andbarren Earth become lush with forests,I was reminded of my road trip through Tennessee and North Carolina, and a spark of awareness that started in Cornwall began to take a cloudy shape.
As I explored Cornwall, the country my great-great grandfather left behind for America, I would occasionally have that uncanny sensation of having been there before, not really déjà vu, but the feeling that an unfamiliar place was completely familiar. That uncanny sensation of having been there before happened again on my train ride to Ayrand, for the first time since arriving in the UK, I began to feel homesick.
During my ride, my brother called. Our short conversation was largely about our hometown, which I hadn’t lived in for 25 years, but had moved back to just before I left for Europe. It was so nice to have a connection to my home, but it contributed to the feelings of homesickness.
When I arrived in Ayr to meet Rosie, I was in a rough spot, but her generosity softened the edges of my aching heart. Rosie is a TreeSister who organizes her local community to bring plants and trees back to the landscapes of Ayr. We met through an email I sent about meeting up while I traveled. We shared a few emails back and forth before settling on a date that would work with both of our travel schedules. As with the other TreeSisters (read about my visits with Sara here and Suzi here), Rosie was open to more than meeting. She had a separate cabin on her property that I could stay in while I visited Scotland.
After the short drive from the Ayr station to Rosie’s home, she took me to the space where I was to be staying and, immediately upon entering, I knew I had found my home-away-from-home. Her little cabin office had an entire wall dedicated to shelves full of books. Poetry, philosophy, spirituality, wellbeing, nature! It was heaven!! I admit, my homesickness had not disappeared and I could have spent the entire time locked up in Rosie’s book-haven with my nose buried, but talking with Rosie and her people, and connecting with the beings of her world, made leaving the cabin worthwhile.
Rosie is one with nature. She runs a business caring for cats and on her land, she hosts people, bees, cats, dogs, chickens, apple trees, roses, spiders, frogs, birds, rock gardens, and so many other wild and beautiful creatures. Her Grove intention is “to connect those who care deeply for nature, Mother Earth and all who dwell upon her.” Rosie is one with ideas, too. She’s written plays and poetry,rewilded her own land and taught others how to grow wild gardens, worked for national trusts in Ayrshire, and organizes her community to create. To say the least, Rosie is a multi-passionate woman!
While I never completely shook that homesick feeling, I found moments of relief at each new nature setting Rosie shared with me. From the cliffs with carved stone circles, to Dumfries House, to Culzean Castle, I was astounded by the beauty.
It was along the shores of the Culzean Castle site, though, where I learned what I needed to learn from my stay with Rosie. As we descended the stairway to the coast and passed through the cliffs to get to the shore, I noticed a rock formation rising out of the sea. That spark of an idea that held an ambiguous shape for days, came a bit further into consciousness through an angel-shaped rock. I continued, almost hypnotized, toward the angel. I was enthralled!
I shared my appreciation through making images. As I was noticing her every curve, I became aware of another angel. I heard the soft, sweet sounds of singing just behind me, barely rising over the crashing waves. It took me a minute to realize that this singing angel was Rosie. She was collecting rocks and sharing her appreciation with song.
We fell into a nice rhythm between us. Her collecting rocks and singing. Me collecting images. And from this space, I turned to look further down the coast, where I saw, on the coastline, the profile of a kind, old soul looking out to the ocean from the shore. Seeing these beings in the rocks comforted me. The spark became a message.
We are all angels. We are all wise, old souls. We are all nature. You are Rosie. Rosie is you. You are always home.
My ancestors left the comfort of their homes, families, and livelihoods to cross the ocean, and even though they were far from the familiar, they ended up in familiar landscapes. Areas of Cornwall were strikingly familiar to areas of Michigan, where my father’s ancestors settled after immigrating to the United States. Areas of Scotland were strikingly familiar to areas of Tennessee and North Carolina, where my mother’s ancestors settled after immigrating. They found their home-away-from-home.
They were likely also homesick for a time, but I like to think that the land comforted them, too, telling them that they are being watched over, that they are always home.
My energy shifted that afternoon. I no longer felt the intense pang of homesickness and I settled into my relationship with Rosie. I had more energy to be a witness to her stories. I had a new appreciation for the wildness of her land. I had a new sense of faith in the purpose of my visit. I had a slight idea of what it must have been like for my ancestors leaving their lives behind for something new. I had new insight into how the land shapes and guides our lives.
And, most importantly, I returned with a deeper appreciation for everyone seeking home.