The first time I laid eyes on this place we now call home, it was winter. A friend wanted to introduce me to a horse, and we pulled into a boarding facility north of Palmer. Snow blew sideways across a long gravel driveway. It was near zero degrees. The people who owned the barn also lived on the property.
It was during a period of transition in my life, a time of upheaval and heartache. Although I had a place to live, I felt homeless in a way that is hard to describe. My biggest impression of this horse farm was the cold, cutting wind – which wasn’t too far off the weather of my own psyche. As I shivered in the barn, I couldn’t imagine anyone ever wanting to live here.
Fast forward several years. Newly married, my husband and I took a Sunday drive on a spring day to scout places where we could comfortably blend our two families of horses and dogs. As we drove north of Palmer, we were surprised to discover this place was for sale. It was springtime, and the buds on the trees were ripening toward green. All memory of wind and cold dissolved under the sunshine that warmed our backs. As we chatted with the property owner, we heard the distinct sound of sandhill cranes overhead and looked up. Calling in their auspicious way, the pair of cranes descended toward us. Bill nudged me and smiled. He knows how enamored I am by these elegant birds. With their wings flared wide, they landed in the horse pasture less than thirty yards in front of us. The owner’s eyes were as big as our own. “Wow. That’s never happened before,” she said.
It felt like a sign.
Reflecting on when I’ve felt most at home in my life, it was rarely the geographic location that mattered most. Home was more about a sense of belonging; of being held in the embrace of something bigger than myself.
As a little girl, our family moved often, and my mother was my home in so many ways. (She is still a cherished home-base in my life.) Later as a young wife, when the military had us living in a different location every couple of years, my most profound sense of home came from holding my two little boys. In the quiet dark of night, as I nursed my baby, I felt my heart’s home fully residing in these two tiny human beings.
In the more than 35 years that I’ve lived in Alaska, walking into our country church in Chugiak has always felt like a kind of homecoming. Maybe it is the smell of wood polish, or the scent of ink in aging hymnals, or the dust in the sunbeams streaming through stained glass windows that have made this place both sacred and familiar over the years. Our boys were raised among the good-hearted people at Our Redeemer Lutheran, and as a testament to the very best kind of homecoming, they now bring their own families there to worship.
In mid-life, during that painful time of transition, there was a season when I worked as a cook and wrangler for a guide in the Brooks Range. It took two days of driving and two days on horseback to get to camp. Throughout the season, I spent days alone with my dog, and whatever horse or mule was left behind in my care. Yet, in a tiny wall tent among timeless mountains, I also felt deeply at home. It was a time of hard physical work, but in the embrace of wilderness, it was also a time of great healing.
I’ve often felt at home in the presence of animals. If you are still enough, long enough, the creatures of this earth reveal an inexplicably beautiful wisdom. Then by some miracle, home can be another person, someone whose love is as steadfast, as life-giving, and as powerful as the rising sun.
All of which led my husband and I here to this ranch wondering about the strange and unexpected turns of life that led us here. At last, here was a physical, geographic location we could call home. And little by little, after months of wrangling paperwork, things finally fell into place.
The first morning after we moved in, I got up early and walked out to the barn. After feeding the horses, I sat on the corral fence to watch the morning’s light wash golden across the pasture. The luminescent green of springtime had deepened into the rich hues of summer. The mountain to the north was still capped with snow. Suddenly the horses raised their heads, ears, and eyes alert. I looked too. Not far away, a pair of sandhill cranes strolled among the tall grass. Trailing behind them were two long-legged youngsters. Our springtime cranes had grown from being a couple to a family since we last saw them.
Inevitably things change over time. We are not getting any younger, and the rigor of running a horse farm is no small endeavor. But for now, we are thankful for each other, for our health, and for this little patch of planet that for a sweet, enchanted time we get to call our own.