By Alexandra Guhde, PsyD
"It's not such a wide gulf to cross, then, from survival to poetry."
One of the precious few books I carried with me to Australia was Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson: Essays from now or never. In the title essay Kingsolver describes, with visceral clarity, the bittersweet pull away from, and then back toward, native soil. She writes about donning "the shell of a tiny yellow Renault" when she was 22, and driving all she owned from Kentucky to Arizona. Twelve years ago, my shell was a compact gold Nissan, and the trek spanned the width of the nation, from New York to California. This past April, it was an Airbus A380 from SFO to SYD. High Tide in Tucson is an essay that gets me.
As much as I came to love Northern California--as much as I enjoyed the combined scents of eucalyptus, jasmine, and marine fog brining the summer sky--the Californian earth never smelled quite as good to me--or maybe asright--as the rich, black dirt beneath the apple orchards and cornfields of western New York in August. There always existed a bodily, tidal pull toward the homeland.
August, in Australia, marks the last month of winter. As in California, winter's finale is an eruption of blossoms and grasses. The smells are also similar to the Bay Area: eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, sandy soil. But different too. There's no fog, for one. And no redwoods or towering pines. Instead, Australian banyans gather voluminous shady skirts around their trunks with spooky, giantess root-limbs. Magpies call out in a creaky, mysteriously amplified sing-song. Rosellas flutter their full-on parrot colors in the still-bare branches of ginkgo trees, and sulfur-crested cockies amble--as only sublimely confident birds do--across expanses of vivid parkland.
And as I make my way through this home away from home, with eyes that feel almost decadently new, I'm reminded of another book I brought with me, DW Winnicott's Home Is Where We Start From. Both Winnicott and Kingsolver write beautifully about the necessity of striking out on one's own, and the concomitant, incurable longing for reunion with the original source.
This essential tension has been much on my mind since arriving in Australia, especially as I've begun work at a practice dedicated to couple therapy. It's now my job to sit with dozens of couples as they seek communion within the hectic push/pull of dependency and autonomy. To the process, each couple brings their own protective traveling shells, the homes they started from, and their unreachable fantasies of what home should, could, will be. With these tools in hand, we begin the uncertain daily crossing, from survival to poetry.