The Orchard in My Suitcase: Meditations on Home

Having recently moved into a new apartment, I find myself thinking about what home has been for me. It’s not a simple answer because I have lived in so many places that I’ve called home, 27 addresses to be exact. That’s a new address every 1.37 years. I don’t know anyone else who has moved more. Though intellectually I felt mildly shocked by this number, emotionally it feels unremarkable. That is, I don’t feel like I’ve wandered so much. But there it is; I’m undeniably a nomad.

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In coming up with this list of 27, I had to define what got included in this list. So here were my guidelines:

Mail had to be sent there. And not just any mail, but official documents, bills, bank statements, magazines.

Rent or a mortgage had to be paid by either me or, when I wasn’t of age, by my parents or grandparents.

Plants had to be grown there by me. It could be a garden. It could be a potato with toothpicks sticking out. For many years, it was an ivy plant in a glass vase with just water. When I cleaned the water out, the roots stretched nearly a yard/meter.

Pictures had to be put up on the wall. During my 20’s I always had these certain watercolor prints of deer and other animals that I put up. Later, I had a small collection of postcards and photographs of my friends and family.

Meals had to be cooked there with my own kitchen tools.

Armed with these parameters I found that those 27 addresses were in:
4 countries
4 states
9 counties
2 prefectures
1 province and
15 cities

I’ve lived longest at my house in Oregon at nearly 7years. Shown here before the house went on the market, it was painted all one color, a pleasant lime.

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But originally, I had the house painted white with forest green, wagon red and midnight blue accents, especially around the porch, which I designed and built (with help from a builder). I love trees, especially fruit trees and I planted persimmons, figs, asian pears, cherries, as well as blueberries, currants, a japanese cedar, a japanese maple, magnolias, tulip trees, a ginkgo, dozens of varieties of lavendar, mints, rosemaries, rhubarb, sunchoke, and at various times raised a riot of sunflowers, corn and squash, and lots and lots of garlic and basil to make fresh pesto.

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Five places tie for the shortest time I’ve had an address, at 3 months each. These range from when I was a wilderness ranger for the National Forest one summer, to a slummy rowhouse in England.

I’ve lived in the 1st, 3rd, 12th and 23rd largest metropolitan areas in the world. And I’ve lived in a town so small, the postmistress was also the librarian and you can drive by without even noticing it was there.

I’ve lived in neighborhoods that were urban, ultra-urban, exurban, suburban, rural, small town, low income, middle class, semi-gated, immigrant, downtown, city centre, near freeways, out in the middle of nowhere, blighted, hip, hippie, and traditional.

I’ve lived in houses that were traditional Korean, row house, ranch style, Japanese modern, tract home, beach house, ranger cabin, duplex, triplex, California mansion, and prefab.

I’ve lived in apartments that were cinder block, condominium, flats, dorm style, dorm proper, and townhouse.

I’ve had views overlooking the Willamette River, a clock tower, a city hall, the Pacific Ocean, Monterey Bay, a forest, treetops, skyscrapers, streets, telephone wires, other apartments, prostitutes, a farm, gardens, Mt. Baldy, construction sites, a plum grove, and in my last place, a magnificent magical ginkgo tree. Tragically, it was cut down this past spring when construction on a huge apartment complex commenced.

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I did my best to try to understand the Japanese documents about the construction projects, but cutting down the tree took me totally by surprise. If I’d known, I would have organized a protest, maybe even done an old-fashioned tree-sitting. I’d have gotten together monks and priests to sanctify it, children to sing around it, old people to chide the developers, anything. Mobilizing people is my specialty and I would have found a way to protect this tree.

In Japan, old trees are revered as gods, often wrapped in thick hemp rope to mark their divinity, so I expected this vibrant gingko to be treated with some sort of respect. But instead I woke up one morning, looked out from my balcony and felt something was terribly wrong. The only divinity honored was that of the god of capitalism. Four ginkgo’s were some of the only living organisms that survived the Hiroshima atomic blast, yet here was a fully mature one, probably over 200 years old, taken down because it was in the way of some luxury apartments.

I knew we had to move then.

Because if you really want to know what home is to me, it’s trees. Whether they were the sycamores, eucalyptus and pepper trees of my childhood, or the redwoods and oaks and later fruit trees of my adulthood, the groves, orchards and forests that I visited were what anchored me as I moved from address to address.

That’s why I have a potted persimmon on my balcony. And that’s why whenever I move into a new neighborhood, the first thing I do is unpack the orchard in my suitcase, and look around to find where the neighborhood trees are.

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5 thoughts on “The Orchard in My Suitcase: Meditations on Home”

  1. thanks, dad. i was also asked by several people about the drawing. i drew it from my porch one december, as the last persimmon hung from the bare branches.

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