Obligatory Self-Promotion (scroll past if you like): Hope you’ll join me for a virtual book launch for Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow, the fifth (!) in the Elder Darrow jazz mystery series. Free parking, goofy prizes, and a chance to help support Project Healing Waters, my charity of the year. I’ll publish a link to register toward the end of the month, on Facebook and Twitter. (Richard Cass-Writer or @DickCass.) Or email me.
I don’t always get my inspiration from reading flyfishing magazines, but it happens often enough that I haven’t cut my subscriptions yet. What got me going this time around was a lovely story about Questa, a town in the high desert of New Mexico that managed its resurrection from a mining-dependent resource-extraction economy to one based on guiding flyfishers in pursuit of a relatively rare trout, the Rio Grande cutthroat. The article was titled Querencia and spoke movingly of how the people who lived in the town were committed, when the mine closed, to finding ways of maintaining lives for themselves and their young people, in the place where so many of them wanted to stay. Because it was home.
The Spanish word querencia originates in bullfighting, that place in the ring where a wounded bull takes its defensive, perhaps final, stance. More appropriate to this discussion is the definition Barry Lopez gives in The Rediscovery of North America:
In Spanish, la querencia refers to a place on the ground where one feels secure, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn. It comes from the verb querer, to desire, but this verb also carries the sense of accepting a challenge, as in a game.
I take it to mean that querencia is the place where you feel your most authentic self, both a refuge and a place where you recharge your energies.
Anne and I have moved around a lot, and while that has been a privilege, it means we have not always settled our roots deep enough into ground to feel much pain when we’ve yanked them back up again. Neither of us would question whether we are of and from New England, but as I look back on the traveling years, I realize there were moments of querencia, if that’s possible: lying on my back watching eagles from Cape Falcon in Oregon; hiking a dripping stretch of rain forest in Seward, Alaska; walking onto a beach full of elephant seals on Maui.
So I’m not sure querencia needs to be a place, but for me, certainly, one of my best places is MacMahan Island, where Anne and I recently spent a couple of pandemic-ignoring days by ourselves, reading, drinking tea, and peering through the fog at the Sheepscot River. Even though we have no property rights in any of it, it owns us.
Thirty-six years ago this year, my new wife and I took the small boat from the dock at Five Islands out into the river and onto the island to honeymoon in an old cottage facing the bay. My primary memories of that weekend are a three pound lobster, a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, and a game of Trivial Pursuit with the late Wilson Jones and family that devolved into such silliness that the entire family only knows me today as Whitey Ford and my good wife as Lesley Gore.
Wilson is gone, the family scattered, but the island still brings me peace, one of few places I feel relaxed and calm, a refuge. Yet today I think what we most need to learn is that true querencia need not be a physical location. What we could profitably relearn is how to maintain our own querencia, and carry it with us. Hermann Hesse said it clearly:
“. . . inside of you, there is a peace and a refuge, to which you can go at every hour of the day and be at home with yourself, as I can also do. Few people have this, and yet all could have it.”
In these months of uncertainty and challenge, my friends, I wish you querencia, whatever form it takes for you.