Yesterday a friend and I went for a walk at the Garden in the Woods: a botanical garden in Framingham, Massachusetts that I’ve been meaning to visit for years. As much as I love my small-town life in southwestern New Hampshire, my best friends live in Massachusetts or elsewhere. In Keene, I walk the dog and take pictures alone; when I want to tour museums, botanical gardens, or simply spend time with human friends, I drive to Massachusetts.

I’ve long said that living in New Hampshire gives me the best of both worlds: at home, I live in a quaint little town with a five-minute walk to my job, and when I want a taste of big-city culture, Boston is only a two-hour drive away. At a certain point, though, you get tired of driving two hours to experience big-city culture or even 90 minutes to share tea with a friend. At a certain point, you begin to question your own geographically bipolar existence, living and maintaining a social life in two separate states.


When my ex-husband and I separated, I purposefully moved my checking and savings accounts to a bank with Boston branches just in case I ever relocated there. My ex-husband’s decision less than a year after our separation to move back to the Cambridge Zen Center, a place we’d lived together for over two years while we were married, squelched any secret plans I’d had of returning there. My ex-husband, however, has since moved to Vermont and now Nashville, leaving all of New England to me. Having lived in Boston before moving to New Hampshire, I’ve often said I’d love to get a chance to live in Boston again on my own and without the hunger I first experienced there. Boston is a haunted place for me because I have unfinished business there, the older, more confident “me” I am wanting to revisit the places that both fascinated and intimidated the younger, more insecure “me” I was. Boston is a haunted place for me because I only began to taste its richness when I lived there, eking a living on its surface before I’d learned to live and look deeper.

Floating Garden

For the past several months, I’ve become residentially bipolar, spending my long summer weekends in Newton, MA–a lush, leafy suburb of Boston–and my summer school teaching days back in Keene. As a place-blogger, I’ve found this first tentative step toward re-location disorienting. How do you continue to blog about Keene when you spend only three days a week there? Can you really claim to “live” in a place like Newton when you spend your weekends at a friend’s house, rent-free? As a place-blogger, what I do through both words and pictures is perpetually ask the question, “Where am I,” and for the past several months, I’ve been living weekends out of a suitcase and weekdays in a town where my roots seem increasingly shallow. Can you really claim to live “in” a town where you only work? And looking at it that way, have I ever really belonged in Keene, having so few friends and non-professional connections there?

Over a year ago, in an essay I submitted to qarrtsiluni, I wrestled with the conundrum of being a lone woman who feels out-of-place in a family-friendly community. What authority do I have, I wondered, writing about place like Keene when my lifestyle is so unlike that of many of my neighbors?

Like a soldier who has set down tent-stakes, I know the lay of the land around Keene: I’ve done more than my share of reconnaissance while walking with dog and camera. But unlike locals who have always lived here or newcomers who have invested by buying homes, bearing children, and starting businesses, I’ve no lasting commitments to this particular community. I don’t own property, I’ve no children to yank from school, and my circle of friends exceeds the limits of this town. In relationships mediated through phone and Internet connections, I could live my life almost anywhere. Even my job as an adjunct writing instructor is tenuous and temporary, a mutual agreement between college and contractor to stick around, for now.

Cardinal flower

These days, it feels as though that mutual agreement between my employer and me to stick around for now is the main thing tying me to Keene. As I wrote then, “I love my quaint little Keene, but we’re not married.” My oft-moving ex-husband used to accused me of being risk-averse, my reluctance to change addresses flying in the face of his wander-lust…and perhaps he had a point. If I had to pick a town in which to grow old and die, Keene is as good–indeed better–than many others, but who says I’m ready to settle down for good? Without children, family, or close friends keeping me in Keene, my only real tie there is my teaching job, and as an adjunct far off the tenure track, my job isn’t something I couldn’t replicate elsewhere.

As I’ve recently suggested, I sometimes wonder whether I’ve become stuck in a rut in Keene, my walks, photography, and blogging having settled into a comfortable but blandly predictable path. It’s been almost three years since my ex-husband and I separated, and during that time I’ve lived in the same apartment while he has relocated four times. Although I’ve no desire to relocate four times in the next three years, I have begun to wonder whether a change of scenery is long overdue.

Turk's cap lily

In the several months I’ve been sharing time between Newton and Keene, my social life has blossomed. I’ve started practicing semi-regularly again at the Zen Center in Cambridge and the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, both of which are an easy drive from my weekend home. Now that I spend my weekends in the same state as my closest girlfriends, spending time with them has gotten easier, whether that means swilling Friday night margaritas on Leslee’s porch in Belmont, unwinding over Kerouac memorabilia in Lowell, or strolling among flowers in Framingham.

As Leslee noted before her recent move, living in a small New England town can be isolating: “It is lovely here, but I need to be more engaged in life among people.” As a childless woman living on my own in a town filled with families and cohabitating college students, I know where Leslee’s coming from. As much as I admire May Sarton and the solitude she pursued in Nelson, NH, I’m not convinced I’m destined for that path. I like living with and among other people, and as much as I love small town New Hampshire, I was born and raised a city girl. Although I left the Boston area about eight years ago, whenever I return, I remember exactly why I fell in love with its streets and sidewalks.

Flying Saucer

As a native Midwesterner, I’m an outsider in New England; perhaps this explains my fascination with place as I try to understand via words and images the various landscapes I’ve encountered. Although I haven’t yet answered the question called Keene, I’m not sure I’m coming any closer to an answer by staying put. As I mused in that qarrtsiluni essay, “I know that ‘Here’ is relative: I could find that, along with my feet, ‘Anywhere.'” Sometimes you can’t understand a place without leaving, and sometimes you need to return to a previous home to experience something new.

Thoreau traveled a great deal in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts, but I’m no Thoreau: if I were, I would have stayed in Ohio. Having crossed the Rubicon between “There” in the Midwest and “Here” in New England, I’ll probably always feel betwixt and between. These days, I’m feeling geographically bipolar, my two feet in two worlds as I spin my compass point around the two towns, Keene and Newton, where I hang my hats, not entirely certain which of the two (if anywhere) is my true home.

For more information about the Garden in the Woods and their 75th anniversary exhibit, Art Goes Wild, click here and here. For more photos from yesterday’s visit, click here. Enjoy!