adjective 1. having or relating to two poles or extremities.
I was once called bipolar by a girlfriend I was breaking up with. It was not a clinical diagnosis. She just needed a fist of words to throw at the man who yesterday was planning a trip to California with her and today was calling it quits. She was crying, and I sat there watching the scene like a spectator. As she tried to process what was happening I was already gone. This trait has categorized a lot of my life. Totally in, or totally out. I struggle in life’s gray areas.
Now, however, that black and white polarity that has been at the foundation of so many of my decisions is being challenged by our recent purchase of a home and ten acres of land more than six hours away from where I write this. There, in Vermont, is the landscape where I want to live and raise my sons. There is the stewardship of nature, the compost piles, the fresh air and crystal clear waters. Here are the roots of my being, my parents and in-laws, my friends, my career as a teacher. I can no longer simplify things with a clear either/or. Now I must abide with the ambiguities of both.
The snow is melting in Granville, Vermont. The ten acres my wife and I just purchased are are filling with rivulets of the spring thaw. The breeze is lifting that earthy scent into the air to mix with the first flowers of spring. As beautiful as it has been here in South Jersey, spring already painting the trees and runs already taking place in shorts and a t-shirt, I still find myself longing for my other home.
I stare at the stagnant river of tail lights unwinding before me on my ride home, and daydream about the desolate curves of Route 100, the uneven dirt roads. I read tweets shot out by our President, distractedly check for likes on my Instagram account, and long for my second home’s lack of cell service and wi-fi. I walk to my car, chin curling to my chest against and early morning chill and think of the sweat that will soak my shirt as I begin the process of splitting wood in preparation for next year’s cold.
In an email correspondence recently, the college professor who so carefully fostered my love for nature and my investigation of a sense of place made an interesting statement about my decision to split time between these two places. John Elder, himself a transplant to Vermont, has spent years reflecting on and writing about his connection to this state he has chosen as his home. “There’s a lot of wisdom in this choice,” he wrote. That is comforting to hear as I work through the newly disjointed fabric of my life.
This year we cancelled our annual Christmas party so I could build a rope tow (it almost works) on our ten acres with my brother-in-law. On one hand I relished that opportunity to connect with him, working together to build something both of our families will enjoy for years. I look forward to all the hours riding down that hill with our four sons. Yet, even as we worked, there was part of me that couldn’t escape the sense of loss at not being close to home for that holiday. I am troubled by missing that time with my friends. Perhaps in addition to pulling kids up the mountain, that rope tow will pull some friends up to Vermont.
“In dividing your family’s year like this,” he went on, “you’re also entering into a rhythm like that of Native Alaskans who go back and forth seasonally between Fish Camp and Berry Camp.” I love that idea, but am still struggling to find the rhythm. This idea of splitting my time is one that is still colored by feelings of disruption.
But spring is in the air, and with it the promise of our first full summer living in Vermont. The thought has me giddy with excitement. When I peek at what is to come, I see this polarity becoming part of the nature of my family. I see my wife and my sons jittery with excitement as we head up to the snow, or to a summer spent exploring this adopted state we love more with each trip. I see us also heading south again heeding the call to return to the place of our births - this state of sandy shores, family and friends.
Bipolar. Adjective. Having or relating to two poles or extremities. I am thankful that I am fortunate enough to maintain both.