I grew up in a middle class suburb next to an upper middle class suburb adjacent to an area where rows of houses give way to acres of pasture. The transition happens within a 15-minute car ride from the house I grew up in, but when we drove there — always driving through — I felt I was in another world that I could never access.
I had an ache that I now understand to be yearning – to run in that grass, live among those trees, ride those horses, and exist where the dominant surroundings were not manmade. I loved the rolling hills dotted with beautiful oak trees, and I wanted to be out there, but all we ever did was drive through.
Land ownership in this country is frustrating, especially since my ancestors worked the land of the South, cultivated and built an economic system, without ever getting paid for it, and without ever having the opportunity to own parts of it. It’s no wonder my soul yearns for it, and that my heart says the land is where I belong.
And yet, when I walk into the Whole Foods closest to my mom’s house, or take a yoga class on the border of where suburban wealth meets land wealth, I am reminded that the people I come from never gained access to the land they built up. I am used to being the only black person, and usually the only person of any color, in these places.
I’ve gotten used to the quiet eyes on me, not unwelcoming, but not totally convinced I belong there either. I am used to performing my role of the hyper-competent visitor. I over perform yoga poses, hold my head extra high, and project belonging so that I might also convince myself.
I love undeveloped land. I love ranches and acres and things that, in the U.S., mostly belong to white people. When I was little that made me feel like an outsider looking in – longing for something so far out of reach I didn’t even know to vocalize it.
Now I know I’d like to live on a piece of land, rather than in an urban or suburban neighborhood. Now I follow my heart when it tells me to drive beyond the houses to let myself imagine the life I could live if I owned land and horses — if my kids had acres to run on.
You can’t have something you can’t imagine, and you can’t imagine something if you don’t believe you belong. My roots are in the land — my ancestors’ souls are there. We may not “own” much land, but ownership in this lifetime does not override the yearning and the knowing and the belonging of a soul.
I guess the lesson here is the lesson every person must confront if they choose to live the life they want – do not ignore the call of your heart. I can’t keep bouncing from city to city, hoping something will stick, when there has never been a time that tall buildings or beautiful homes called to my soul the way trees and grass and sunsets do. But for a girl without access to the means or the understanding of where to start, knowing that I want to acquire and cultivate land feels like more of a burden than a blessing.
It is New Year’s Eve and I am reflecting on my “goals,” and the only thing that is clear to me is that I have to run toward that dream. I must find ways to be closer to land and horses and people who have the knowledge I hope to have someday. If I can’t do it for Courtney the adult, I can do I for the little girl who looked out of car windows wishing she could stay staring in that spot forever, wondering why tears welled when the car kept moving.
Her heart belongs to the land, and if I ignore that, something will always be missing.