It is the aesthetic of a place that makes it feel like home. There are rooms and closets and cupboards under the stairs that are so cramped and crowded, filled with musty smells and thick dust and scuttling spiders, that we cannot bear to be there longer than we must. Those are the worst of places, the nooks and crannies of misery in our homes. But they have an opposite – our niches. Our happy places.
Most don’t think about it, but everyone has a happy place. We call them our special rooms, our thinking spot, or our workspace, perhaps. These are the places where we are able to go into ourselves and disappear.
My happy place is absolutely essential to me. As I grow older, and as I move around, this place changes and I have to carve out new ones.
I spent most of my childhood living in a somewhat dilapidated house near the center of a one-horse town (so to speak. There were actually a lot of horses, and not much of anything else). We were “strongly encouraged” to go outside, and so I had to find places I liked to be. I had many of them, as a child in the country, where land was vast and most people didn’t care if you trespassed as long as you weren’t killing their deer, stealing from their garden, or visible from their kitchen window.
My first was a tree in the woods behind my house. I couldn’t tell you exactly where it was, only how to get to it. I traveled the stone wall up the hill in the forest until it split into a grid, then I took the left turn and followed it until I reached my tree. It was a split birch tree, low enough that I could sit on it like a bench. It was quiet in that part of the forest, and I could think. You cannot appreciate how loud everything is until you have isolated yourself in a forest acres away from another person, house, or road. The forest is not, by any means, quiet, but compared to the noise from the very small, one-lane highway I can hear from my apartment window, it is the image of solitude.
I had other places, too, though none so precious as this. There was a boulder by the stream on our property. There was the nook next to the extension at my central school. There was the old cemetery from the late 1700s-early 1800s across the street from the school. Retrospectively, it’s creepy how much time I spent sitting against the stone wall lining the graveyard – even as a teenager. When you’re an adult, you can do none of these things – trespass in the woods, find quiet corners in public buildings, hide in cemeteries. It’s considered suspicious and suspect behavior.
That said, places like these are now off limits to me. Of course, there are other places to hide. I particularly enjoy libraries and I love stairwells. At my college (both colleges, actually) there are stairwells that go up to roof hatches or attics in the buildings, and nobody ever goes up that far. There are landings, and I would love to take my things and go to the highest, most isolated point, and spread out and enjoy the peace of it. I am rather good at finding these spots, as well as abandoned study rooms. Again, as a functioning adult, these places are difficult to find.
The aesthetic of an apartment is busy. There’s nothing to be done about it – that’s just the way things are. I’m not a minimalist (at all) but I am very good at organizing things. This is essential if you like to amass “stuff” but don’t have a lot of places to put it. A busy atmosphere is not a happy place – not for me. My mind gets overwhelmed and I get anxious. I’ve tried to keep things as contained as possible, but sometimes, that’s still too much.
Druidry encourages the creation of a grove – physical, if possible, but also the curation of a mental grove where you can go in your mind to mediate and be at peace. It’s an incredibly useful practice for those of us who find themselves at lost in a chaotic world. I’m also blessed with a fairly clear imagination. While this is underrated in adults, I find it one of my favorite features. When I close my eyes and concentrate, I can create a paradise of my own. My paradise does not have palm trees, and the water is not ocean waves (which I also love) but a trickling river. There are birch trees and a forest in autumn. There’s a warm wind, and a large boulder I can climb upon to simply breathe, and be. My mind’s grove is a mash up of all my favorite places and a reflection of the peaceful spots I knew as a child.
To many, this practice may seem foolish. Who has time to make believe a forest and trees and river? What a waste of time and energy. But yet… that’s exactly why I do it. It’s the same reason why I read. At times, the speed of this world is simply too much for me. I feel my heart racing in my chest. I feel my my muscles stiffen. I need to get away somewhere the universe is not demanding so much of me, and so quickly.
This is how I survive.
In my quiet, peaceful, happy place I can recharge.
I can feel, for a fraction of a second, unburdened and free.