Finding Home

May 24, 2024 James

I’ve never watched a full episode of the Yellowstone series. It’s supposedly set in Montana but is filmed in Utah. I guess it doesn’t much matter unless one grew up in Montana. And yet it does, because the place we call home is important.

I grew up in the Oklahoma Panhandle, the protruding part of Oklahoma 166 miles long and 34 miles wide, nestled between Kansas and Texas. My father was the Terminal Manager at a gasoline terminal, where the tanker trucks would fill up with gas to take to the gas stations. We lived in company housing beside the Terminal, and in the evening, when it was closed, I often played among the tanks and snaking rows of pipeline. My father had planted many trees throughout the facility, making it more than an industrial plant, helping make it our home.

When I go to sleep at night, or when I’m in the dentist chair or some other uncomfortable place, I turn my mind to our house by the Terminal. It’s my happy place.

I will always be a child of the Great Plains. Its vast landscape molded me; its empty, sky-filled horizons nurtured me. Living in the country taught me the treasure of solitude. Riding horses to help my father work the cattle we raised, attending school in a tiny town where my classmates’ parents were mostly farmers, visiting with my dad and the Terminal workers in the summer, all of it affected my outlook. It was a great place to grow up. It was wondrous.

I write science fiction and fantasy. Perhaps that seems incompatible with my childhood. Shouldn’t I be writing about cowboys, farmers, and oil workers? But that isn’t what drew me, for those were commonplace things and ordinary people to me. Instead, it was the night stars unfolding above me, the cicadas appearing like winged dragons in the spring, the susurrations of the wind in the trees, the majestic sunsets, my mother’s singing, my father’s smile when he opened the door to greet her when he came home for lunch.

All of it was magic. And I use it in my writing. Some of it is practical, like knowing to pull back on a horse’s reins when going downhill in order to keep the animal’s head up and prevent it from falling. Because “A horse follows its head.” Cowboy wisdom.

But a lot of what I write about is because of the sense of wonder I grew up with. It’s an important part of me.

Every writer, every person, has a concept of home. Each of our stories is different. Maybe you grew up in a metropolis or by a seashore or in a mining camp. What is it like to grow up knowing how to sail or how to eat lobster in Maine? Don’t ask me. I’m a child of the Plains.

That’s why every reader and writer is unique. That place we call home shaped us. It’s part of who we are, for both good and ill. We are, in many ways, the picture of our home showing its face to the world.
I think that’s wondrous.

May you always find your way back to wherever you call home.