Familiars

Wednesday, January 20, 2021 12:53 PM | ecoartspace (Administrator)

Image Credit: Christopher Reiger

Familiars

By: Christopher Reiger

Written by Christopher Reiger for Humans and Nature, Chicago

In the fall of 2019, a little over a year after my family moved from San Francisco to Sonoma County, I looked up one morning while driving my two young boys to daycare and preschool and saw the familiar “V”-formation, or skein, of Canada geese flying over Route 12. I’m a nature nerd, and I’m forever trying to excite my kids about natural history; I pointed the birds out to the preschooler and I asked him what species they were. He answered correctly, and I felt that wonderful surge of daddy pride that’s really just my ego being stoked.

But the good feeling didn’t last long—my son asked me where the geese were going. I didn’t know. I hazarded a guess that, perhaps because the birds were flying west, they were headed to graze on the dairy farms near the Laguna de Santa Rosa wetlands, but I was frustrated that I couldn’t give him a more sure answer.

Growing up, when a flight of geese passed overhead, depending on the species and time of day, not only could I tell you, with confidence, where they were headed—a salt marsh, perhaps, or a farmer’s field—but I could usually name the specific spot. I could tell you the geese were heading for the tidal estuary at the outlet of Rattrap Creek, or Buck Lane’s winter wheat field behind the post office. When a child spends as much time outdoors as I did, and they have a parent or parents who are deeply invested in the local ecology, it’s almost inevitable that they will become intimately acquainted with the land and the other animals, the nonhuman animals, that also call the place home.

As a kid, I regularly explored our nearly 300-acre coastal Virginia farm, and at times it felt as though I could summon an animal. Not literally, of course, but I’d find myself in a loblolly pine grove on a warm afternoon with the sun slanting just so, and I’d “feel” that I was going to encounter a black rat snake. Then there it would be. I don’t believe I was actually sensing these creatures before I spotted them, but I was so in tune with the farm that I knew—even without thinking about it—when and where I was likely to encounter different species.

But that was thirty years ago on the other side of the country, on the Delmarva Peninsula, the narrow strip of land between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. My parents still live there, and my family visits at least once a year, but I’m no longer rooted there. Frankly, I’m no longer rooted anywhere—which is, for most of us, typical.

My father lived in two dozen places before he married my mother. In 1970, they purchased the farm on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and, a few years later, abandoned their professional and personal attachments to Washington, D.C., and New York City, and settled full-time on Heron Hill, the name they gave to the Virginia property. My father is a writer, and in one of his books, a 1994 memoir about his stewardship of the farm, he writes about continuity in our American imagination.

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