Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

May 4, 2014

Allison Batdorff: Attachment to 'the land' runs deep

I’m a 'burbs baby, born and bred. Where I grew up, “land” means “landscaping.”

Lawns buffer homes like green inner tubes. “The land” means groaned sentences starting with “have to” and ending with a Saturday afternoon kick to the mower. It means condominium living in your dotage, payment for time served in backyard drudgery.

Yet yard work indulges a deep-rooted yearning — a heart-swelling dream that extends beyond the fence line. My family nods like bobbleheads at the land scene in “Gone with the Wind.” We lecture Scarlett O’ Hara alongside her dad, outraged at her careless dismissal of the land, of Tara.

Gerald O’Hara: “Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that the land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”

Now I don’t have a plantation. I don’t have a house. I’ve moved eight times in 20 years. The job, wanderlust and circumstance led to constant uprooting and transplant, yet attachment to “the land” runs deep, bearing interesting fruit over the years.

My first “garden” consisted of a foul, stinky sprout that poked out of the sand in our dorm room ashtray. I nurtured — and respected — its foolhardy tenacity and it hung on for years. The leap from sprout to subsistence farming in Ukraine required voodoo hex removal as my plot was double-cursed with a sly resident goat and horseradish.

Houseplants and potted geraniums decorated my Hamtramck walk-up, then I lucked into a string of dirt patches. One was a 2-by-3-foot pile of northern Michigan black dirt — formerly the oil disposal yard for my monster truck-owning neighbor. The other, a community garden plot in Wyoming, taught me the joys of a lower back burn born of lugging water in the high desert. That land couldn’t have differed more from the mossy, wet sliver of earth flanking paving stones that constituted my Japanese garden.

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