The journey to Ithaka, the pathway to the sea
On fantasy, realism, and telling the truth

Writing without roots

Morning coffee

Morning visitors

From "Where is Terabitha?" by Katherine Paterson (Innocence & Experience):

"Flannery O'Connor, whose words about writing have meant a great deal to me, has said that writing is incarnational. By incarnational we mean that somehow the word or the idea has taken on flesh, has become physical, actual, real. We mean that the abstract idea can be percieved by the way of the senses. This immediately makes fiction different from other kinds of stories. The fairy tale begins, 'Once upon a time,' thus clearly signaling its intent to escape the actual and the everyday, but a novel takes its life from the petty details of its geography, history, and culture.

Dartmoor pony and foal

"This is one of the reasons that writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and William Faulkner move us so powerfully. Their roots are planted very deep in a particular soil, and they grow up and reach out from that place with a strength unknown to most writers. It is also the reason why a writer like Pasternak would refuse the Nobel Prize rather than leave Russia. For Russia, despite her terror and oppression, was the soil from which his genius sprang, and he feared that if he left her, he would leave behind his ability to write.

Mother & child


A foal's breakfast

"What happens, then, to a writer without roots -- who is not grounded in a particular place? When I was four years old, we left 'home,' and I've never been back since. Indeed, I couldn't go back if I wanted to because the house in which we lived was torn down so that a bus station could be built on the site. Since I was four, I've lived in three different countries and seven states at about thirty different addresses. I was once asked as part of an imaginative exercise to remember in detail the house I had grown up in. I nearly had a mental breakdown on the spot. But the fact that I have no one place to call home does not make me feel that place in fiction is unimportant. On the contrary, it convinces me that I must work harder than any almost any writer I know to create or re-create the world in which a story is set and grows if I want to make a reader believe it."

Wild family

Watching quietlyPhotos above: Morning coffee under the old oak, and three visitors. Some previous posts on the subject of place: Thoughts About Home, More Thoughts About Home and Staying Home. I'm also reminded of Christina Cairn's lovely post, Meditations on Home, at A Mermaid in the Attic (2011).


I want to have my morning coffee with a black dog and three Dartmoor ponies! It's like something out of Beatrix Potter, at least to these urban eyes, which must help when you write about "place." Drinking my morning coffee at the corner Starbucks here in Chicago doesn't have quite the same resonance...

Gosh, this really, really spoke to me. Thank you, Terri.

I've been finding the theme of 'home' forcing itself into my writing lately. As someone who's had around 35 different addresses in my (almost) 45 years of life, I completely agree with Paterson's statement that her experience of not having A Home made the concept of Home more important to her, not less.

Each and every one of your photos in this post is just incredible. Each one sings Home to me. Makes me realize all the more just how complex and possibly trickster-like the idea of Home really is.

Off to mull this over. (Before I ramble myself into complete embarrassment here.)

I'm unsure quite why, but I am moved to tears reading these words, seeing these sights. I will sit with this and see what reveals itself. Thank you.

Well-timed words, as always. Autumn is here, which always makes me think of home and family and roots.

Another wonderful post that speaks to my soul. As you know, the landscape here in MA is not much unlike the beautiful place where you now live. That oak reminds me of the many giant oaks we have here. Your literary selections seem to come from my own library...your reflections on and connections to so many of my long-time favorites are serendipitous and delightful. Thank you.

What about the poor Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers? The little terrace house I grew up in wouldn't translate well into exotic realms! Some of my relatives were wonderfully 'lively' and tolerant, particularly on the Romany side, but even they may look askance if asked to share a table with wizards and Elves...Having said that, when I remember some of my relatives(now alas long gone), perhaps it'd be the wizards and Elves that would look askance!

"What happens, then, to a writer without roots -- who is not grounded in a particular place?"- So many of us are transplants. Spreading roots deep and wide in the places we could be from but found later, after wandering a while. I like to think about how my ponies will be from here, this place I found. That story is an old one too.

And yet I spent my summers in Chicago growing up and miss it with all my hear.

i look forward to reading the book that is coming through from the deep peace of place you have found in Dartmoor Terri

Be careful which black dog you share your morning coffee with, lili, especially if you're in England. The legendary 'Black Shuck' looks like a dog, but is a demonic creature that haunts lonely roads and preys on travellers! More M.R.James then Beatrix Potter.

Oh, thank you. Between yesterday's post and this one, something is clicking in me that needed to click.

I was talking to a cousin this summer about writing - she has a cookbook coming out this fall. She said, "I can't believe I beat you to it." I said that I feel like I have my voice, but I haven't found my subject yet.

She said, "Oh, that's the easy part."

I thought, "HOW"

Maybe it's home. Maybe it's exile, as I live for this time being in a place I dislike for practical reasons, far away from family and deciduous trees. I tell people that my heart lives underneath a piece of granite under a pile of fallen birches that used to form a circle, behind the house I love most in all the world. There is a story to be written in that distance.

Thank you.

Hi Terri

Those photos of the ponies, the oak and all the green surroundings are breathtaking and leave me nostalgic for the greenery and wild life of Upper New York State. I was rooted in green mingled with the rain, the river, the shade trees, the woods. And now, I am here in the high desert, transplanted and learning to re-graft myself to the Joshua tree, the desert sage and lizard, raven and coyote, the dry heat and everything else that comes and goes within this terrain. So now I am writing with new roots and remembered ones. And yet, I think the term , itself, is esoteric. Some people write from the roots of their ancestry or spirit. My sister-in-law is American born but of Hungarian lineage. She is by nature, a nomad, a gypsy. She travels by want and to whatever place seems to summon her. She moves there, adapting to and adopting the history and lore of the territory. She has often said a river runs through her veins; she is in constant flux. And this would be her source of anchorage, nothing solid or permanently tangible, but the constant instinct to drift and take root time and again. This was a poem I wrote about her ( and artists like her) which embodies this concept.

A Woman Contemplates The Water Cooler

Trapped in a glass lung,
water waits to be drawn
then sipped between gossip
and complaints.

Its spirit reduced
to these shared
ounces and hours
in an office

which should be
a stream or river
polishing stones, soaking through
tree roots and keeping
the earth cool

while fragments of former lives
lie embedded
among shoots of new growth.

My tendons are stems
stretching , binding movement
to wind and light,
white pines and old world sparrows.

North Carolina
calls me back. Her breath
history deep, a hearth
exposed on a hill

where there’s enough
shards of clay and wood
to comprise
the rattle’s shake for rain
or healing.

Where a woman stirred
pots and carved dolls
with a paring knife,

her fingers scented
with tea olive, limber
as the bark of a sapling.

I was not born there
but born of her.

Her ancestry ringed
around those joints
that let me travel
telling my bones

their song is the song
of the seeker, the wood wife
who sleeps on the ground
and listens for water --

the course of her next journey.
Again, thank you for this wonderful blog with the quotes and pictures. They have made my morning very special and inspiring!

My Best,

I stumbled across your blog the other day.just what i needed. Thoughts music and poetry beautiful drawings . Its grounded me and helped me dream , think, relax. Thankyou

Shivers, Wendy--gorgeous shivers. Thanks.


This a read it again and again poem. It transforms in the rereading.

(1) Oh the beautiful horses and the colt. I want to wander there but will have to just remember when
I had horses and one colt in two meadows.

(2) Growing up reading stories set in various places, Alice's home and grounds and also, Wonderland,
Dorothy is dusty Kansas and Oz, Little Women during a distant Civil War, The Princess and the Goblin's
castle near the reality of mines, I could not imagine writing anything without backgrounds, both
real and magical. Kind of stuck to me forever as necessary in writing and odd if left our of anything I

Beautiful, Wendy.

me too--shivers and a reread for more. Deep and true,

Oh Terri--it's Miltons' Paradise, only not lost--shared and incarnate here in image and word--"incarnational"--having become physical, actual, real" (((Sigh)))

Stunning, Wendy. Simply stunning.

Welcome, Julie!

There is indeed a story there, Virginia.

Some people need to "grow into" their voices over time, like opera singers. You've plenty of time and it's not a race; there are wonders inside you and they will come out.

Thank you, everyone. "Home" and "place" are subjects dear to my heart, since my own upbringing too was a transient one.

I still love Boston. A truly lovely city.

Everyone's background is exotic to someone, somewhere. To me (a truck driver's daughter from New Jersey/Pennsylvania), growing up in an English terrace house, with Romany relatives, sounds like a wonderful grounding for storytelling.

"So many of us are transplants."

Especially in North America, where -- except for pure-blooded First Nations peoples -- we're all of traveling, immigrant stock (whether that immigration was voluntary, or forced by enslavement, exile, war, or traumatic circumstance). Which is not to say that everyone in Europe is ancestrally rooted to the place where they live -- particularly now -- but America's melting-pot history gives our complicated connection to the land and its stories (mingled native/immigrant lore) its unique flavor... captured beautifully in North American fantasy novels by the likes of Charles de Lint, Marly Youmans, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Midori Snyder (The Flight of Michael McBride, Hannah's Garden), Nancy Spring (Hex Witch of Seldom) and Delia Sherman (Freedom Maze), among others.

Thanks so Much Terri

I am glad you enjoyed this and appreciate your kind words!

My Best

Thank you Michelle

I sincerely appreciate your thoughtfulness!


Hi Lynn

Thank you for the kind words toward this poem! I really appreciate them!


Hi Phyllis

So glad you enjoyed the poem. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I sincerely appreciate it!


Hi Jane

Thank you so much for these kind words regarding my poem!
I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness.


Yes exactly so; I tend to forget that the mundane to one is the exotic to another. And when I remember my grandmothers...

Yes, I quite agree. And oh how I love Freedom Maze. What a beautifully constructed tale of identities crossed and past and present. I know you are close friends with Delia. She is wondrous!

Eight different houses before I was sixteen--ten if we count the ones for summers with my father. I am very sympathetic to rootlessness. I recently celebrated six years at my current address, the longest I've ever lived in the same place.

Having settled in and made this my home, I am sometimes strangely neurotic that I will go to a place and suddenly feel like "THIS IS IT! This is where I belong!" I've heard people say that such things have happened to them. It sounds unsettling. I've spent so much effort on my current garden, it would be dreadfully inconvenient to discover I belonged somewhere else!

What a beautiful blog! I can't get enough of it! All the wonderful art and photos. Thank you for sharing!

And yet, throughout the whole of human history so far, this concept of home as we now think of it was unknown.
We'd have our home territory - that range of landscape within which our family band would roam with the seasons - but never settle in one place for more than a few weeks at a time. A perpetual cycle from one home to another, always looking for something else, always returning to the paths our ancestors trod and the landscape they roamed while each season, each generation, our boundaries shifted across the face of the planet.
We carried within us and within our family band few possessions, no great belongings except the one which told us: "this is where you belong".
Home is simply where you belong. And because we carried our belongings with us for millenia before we began to settle down, is it any wonder many of our favourite homes are in stories?

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