Nature vs. Nurture

Sensory triggers – those sounds, sights and smells that anchor us to a meaningful time and place – wash over involuntarily throughout our lives, quickly and spontaneously, leaving a reminiscent connection to the original event. One would think the triggers would dissipate with time, but life seems to add to the meaningfulness as we go, adding new relevance to what once may have seemed unimportant at that time.

Elizabeth’s drawing of an open-air interior provides the inside-looking-out perspective through the lattice walls and ceiling. You can see the mountains beyond the safety of the top floor, and perhaps one day you will be set free from the structure so that you can feel the adventure firsthand. Someday, when you are ready.

Some of the artifacts in the drawing remind me of a particular home my Grandparents owned – the Hawthorne House – that rested on the edge of a canyon in Golden Hills. There are enough clues in the drawing to represent my mother’s connection to her parents, some of it nebulous and deceptive, and I must assume these had meaning to Elizabeth. For me, it triggers a time and place when I was around 8, just down a couple streets from this house, along the same canyon after a bend. We had a split-level home also resting along the canyon edge and my bedroom had a balcony overlooking the sloping back yard that gave in to eucalyptus trees and blue jays and furry canyon critters.

I remember longingly the summers and weekends at our home in Golden Hills. The bells from Balboa Park would ring out regularly, the same familiar warm melody of notes, wafting through the canyon, echoing off the slopes of chaparral and snake holes. On the hour, the bell would follow with the number of rings so that no matter where I was playing I could hear what time it was; a clock for all children to return home by.

As much as I enjoyed playing in the canyons, coming home smelling of skunk and anise, I really loved to read in my room, balcony doors open, listening to the birds chatter, mom cursing the gophers and mockingbirds and bumblebees as she tended her garden (quite unsuccessfully I will add). I would fall asleep reading and she would come in to wake me up for lunch, or to kick me back outside. She would brush my bangs with her hand and call my name softly – almost singing – until I woke. Her voice would reach into my dreams and sweetly pull me out and there she was, my wonderful reassurance that I was adored.

So not surprisingly, mission bells, canyon smells and bird chatter are my anchor to the assurance of unconditional love. Long after I have left the safety of the lath house for the adventure of life beyond, it is the voice of my mother that returns me to a beautiful time and place in the past.

But there is also joy in today, in the people that surround me now. The people with whom I share the present, these are my partners in adventure. The headiness of the past is tempting in its appeal, but I must make sure to anchor to points all along my life journey, so I’ll have some beautiful souvenir triggers for when I return to the lath house.