I cannot wholly explain why the final image from The Searchers* so moves me – John Wayne framed by the doorway of a home suddenly rich with joy, but he turns away and almost stumbles off the porch, holding his right arm as if bruised, the Monument Valley wind driving hard against him.
Maybe every distinct segment of our lives can be framed by this: we are either leaving home or forever returning. In my twenties, many of my generation longed to move far away, to satisfy our fresh desires to see and experience sensations pristine to us, as if they were miraculous expanses of sunny wilderness viewed from a high pass. Even though we knew those regions to have their dangers, once we saw such promised lands, we had to descend. Staying home would have made us stale, forever bitter because we had refused the call. We wanted to turn our backs on every foundation of the world that had shaped us — then we did not understand that we carried those foundations with us.
Perhaps more settled in our forties or fifties, those once intimately known landscapes often reassert themselves, our DNA whispering us back whether we respond or not. And if we do not return because we have found countries better tuned to our needs, or we are in exile, stopped from any restoration by money or loss, anger or apathy, then we might construct imaginary homes out of whims or brief visits, places we will never rest except as an aspiration to the lives we think might give us relief from our scars. Seamus Heaney in “Glanmore Revisited” speaks of a return so welcome that “… whatever rampaged out there couldn’t reach us/Firelit, shuttered, slated and stone-walled (33).” *
Monet’s home in Giverny is my I-wish-for-another-life home. His airy bedroom looks out over beatific gardens through two double doors. His kitchen, where his friends and family gathered for lunches, holds a sustained glow of the warmest yellow – a chamber open to the scents of measureless flowers and an optimistic batten against misfortune.
Recently those paintings that suggest the end of one journey have caught my eye. In Cezanne’s The Bellevue Plain the viewer seems to be emerging from a baking heat; he or she sees a village squeezed between dry fields and skies, all the trees within the walls, a cool green reverie of a place only steps away. In Renoir’s Dovecot at Bellevue we see another set of skies and fields awash in blues and light golds, so sustained by rapturous light as to be mistaken for Paradise.
Now it might be culminations that I seek, a home as open as a sanctuary, where the work that remains, that must remain, can be fulfilled.
Final scene from The Searchers, one of the great American movies.
**Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney
Both paintings can be seen at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Their colors are so much more vivid in person.