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Home is far way, but also here with me

By Hannah McLeod • Guest columnist

I arrived in Costa Rica at the beginning of February. After floundering for a few too many months in the shallows of real life following college graduation in May, I decided to flounder somewhere else and wound up teaching yoga and cooking meals at a surf camp in Avellanas.

It’s difficult to explain the feeling of being lost and alone that comes at the end of the growing up road map, wherever that end may be (and I know that growing up never really ends). But I’m sure it’s a feeling most everyone has felt in this life. When you add in losing a best friend and falling hard out of a long-term relationship in the same year that road map ended for me, I wound up with a feeling similar to that of being blindfolded, spun around hundreds of times, and then told to go run a marathon. I was confused, unsure, detached from those I had loved and depended on, and tired from everything and nothing. 

Now, I finally feel as though I’ve landed, if only for the time being. I feel like I can breathe again. Take a second to think about where I am, where I’ve come from, and where the hell I could possibly go. I am thankful beyond measure. 

It is nearing the end of the dry season here. Water is scarce and the land is all shades of brown and yellow and seems to be covered in a thin layer of dust. There is a sense of waiting, expectation, and hope that the rains to come will indeed come and bring some much needed hydration to the land. 

It’s easy to forget that, though, when you’re on the beach. Just the last line of trees, sand, and the vast ocean. Here in Avellanas surfing is what is done. If you come here you better be able to surf or keen to learn. Though you could hardly call what I do surfing, being out beyond the break, watching the ocean move with some invisible force from beneath (and above, outside this earth), and the vast horizon resting calmly on top has become a meditative activity. 

In reading news and columns from back home, I hear people talking of a similar feeling to the expectation of rain — the coming of spring. And the feeling is so easy to remember. Watching daily as the mountains become at first just a bit less scarce with each twig on each tree growing tiny buds. And then there are the occasional warm days between those still wintery ones. There is a yearning for the full expression of spring that no matter how much we hope for just isn’t in our power to determine. And there’s something comforting in that, being at the mercy of the earth’s whims and the patterns it follows. 

A few weeks ago, the brother of the owner of this camp and his girlfriend came down from the surf camp in Nicaragua (which they run) to stay in Avellanas. Scarlett is from northern Nicaragua, close to Leon. Meeting her gave me the feeling of being home again. Not in the dizzying way I had felt before I left, but in the things I appreciate and love about home. Like so many people in Western North Carolina, she is from here, her family has been here for countless generations, and she is oozing with knowledge of the land and culture of this specific place on earth. 

What’s more, being around her was like being around my mother again, learning countless things each day just by working alongside her. We planted a small garden of spices in the courtyard, and she showed me how to prune the basil of mature leaves while the plant is still growing to maturity, so that it expends energy growing in size rather than producing big leaves. If you don’t take these leaves from the plant it will forever remain small, just making a few big leaves every week or so. By removing some larger leaves, after there are already smaller ones beginning to grow above them, you allow the plant time and energy to grow in form and strength throughout its branches and stems. 

I could hear my grandmother (a plant witch in her own right) speaking through my mother as Scarlett told me to make sure and cut each leaf close to the stem so the plant doesn’t think the leaf is still there and send nutrients to a dead end stem. And when we planted Papaya seeds she knew exactly the place to do it based on the texture and makeup of the soil in different spots. She made sure also that we planted them on a new moon, apparently of vital importance, and was careful that no one (including the camp cats and dogs) packed down the soil covering the seedlings thereby leaving them space to reach the air and sunshine above. She squats to the level of the plants with the same ease that others would sit down in a chair, and handles the plants and earth with the same tenderness you would show a newborn baby. And just like folks at home she is the person who can talk your hopes, sorrows, and dreams out of you over a cup of coffee and a slow morning. 

While I am reveling in my time here teaching yoga, being steps away from the ocean, and am nowhere near ready to leave, being around Scarlett helped me remember and realize how thankful I am for the place I come from. For my family, the mountains, the seasons and all of the change they hold. I saw again the value of having roots, being from a place and really knowing it. 

This day and age, there is so much emphasis placed on traveling, seeing new places, and often (especially when you’re from a small town) pressure to get out into the world. Traveling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures gives incomparable insights and understandings that are so important.

But having a home — whatever that word means for each person, it means so many different things — is also of immeasurable importance. I am beginning to understand that part of home is a deep knowledge/ understanding of a place and its people (why some people feel they have many), and I am so thankful for mine. 

When I returned home after school, I never meant to stay there long. It was always supposed to be a short time, save some money, and then make the next move. But, as I settled in that place, and the loss, confusion, and darkness settled in, it became harder and harder to point my feet in any direction. Looking back I am so thankful for the people that allowed me to be in that space. The people that embraced me despite the ball of confusion I was. People who became fast friends and gave support they probably didn’t even have in themselves to give. 

While I sit in the shade of the courtyard here, another perpetually sunny day, I am overcome with gratitude for where I’ve landed at the moment. I don’t think that feeling could be as strong or as clearly comprehended without the knowledge of home, of roots, and of a place of belonging in the mountains I get to call home. 

(Hannah McLeod, whose home is in Waynesville, can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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