When I was younger, my mom used to offer me that Maderma cream which promised to erase my various scars. I always said no and I think it was because I liked the idea of preserving the aesthetic storytelling of where I have been and to whom I belong. While blemishing, if erased, somehow it seems I have dishonored the experience.
My hands are dry. The creases so often overlooked are now emboldened by stubborn steppe dirt. At each bend, I find a new scratch etched in red. I rub my forehead (I am Chuck’s daughter), and suffer the scratchy roughness of “garden hands.” A gratifying emotion burgeons within me. It feels like a pride of sorts. My hands prove my belonging to the land. It is as if every mark is a branding—evidence of my intimacy with the dry Patagonian earth. My hands record the history of my relationship with the Argentine soil and wind.
The new volunteers are from Spain. Their first night at dinner, I explained how I can understand nearly everything that people say, but it is still difficult for me to actually speak Spanish. Carlos, the Spaniard, corrected me. “You do not speak Spanish. You speak Castellano(Argentine Spanish),” he said with a smile. Again, the pride-reminiscent emotion grew within me. Even my language proves my belonging to this place. Better yet, my words disclose the details that I have learned the majority of Castellano from a French girl. There is story hidden even within my diction. Here, a gallena is not a “ga[y]ena it is a “ga[shh]ena.”
I begin to recognize this now familiar sentiment as the sense of belonging. It ties right into Wendell Berry’s notion of membership. When I feel the pride--mixed with contentment--mixed with a strong sense of inclusion, I believe it is because I belong. My hands remind me of my earned place. The dirt gritted within my fingers stands witness for how I cannot separate Sarah from the land on which I live. My tongue testifies to my being a part of this culture and this community.
On cold days, I like to think “I feel belonging” the strongest. There is something about walking out of Sybil’s and my tiny room and into the unrelenting wind. My body desires a sweater, a fire, coffee, and maybe a board game. These desires are incredibly culture-driven, yet I believe the cold—the difficult, catalyzes a closeness. The tug towards those who I belong to takes me to the kitchen; I see the dear smile of Zunilda and Pablo and Fer. I give them all a quick Argentine kiss and it is my equivalent to the comfort found fireside.
Throughout my life, I have relished the moments when I duck inside a tent full of friends and out of the rain. Or, I step into a warmly-lit cabin with my family and out of the dense dark. I do not think I have to convince you that I love being out of doors. I long for an open landscape with only my feet to take me across it. Yet, on the Carolina Coast, there is something comforting about seeing a beach house light glowing gold against the dark abyss of the sea. Reentering a gathering place after time out in the invigorating harshness parallels to the experiences in which I send myself out to risk and dare and be uncomfortable and suffer hardship. Without fail, each time I eventually yearn to turn homewards—to North Caroline, to Winston, to Raleigh, and into the arms of someone who loves me.
I think we can belong to all sorts of things. I find myself saying things that Anne Campbell would say. In these moments, with smile writ large, I believe it proves my belonging to our friendship. Or out of nowhere, my memory overwhelms and I am walking across Davis field at nightfall with no shoes to obstruct my toes from greeting the cold green grass. My memory, my body, my words, all point back to those to which I belong.
I believe I am still in the shallows of belonging. How will my heart feel when I am far away from this simple and significant Patagonian rhythm? What must it be like to belong to a man in marriage for the rest of life? And think of the mystery of all of us belonging together in one body—the body of a King.
That's me, the blond gringa who somehow got the chance to belong to a membership of gauchos for a month.
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."