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Querencia by Peter Ralston
 

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  • Years ago I ran across the Spanish word "querencia" in a book by William F. Buckley, with whom I had developed a friendship after we worked together on a piece for Architectural Digest.

    So, being of the ever-curious type, I asked him what it meant. I am eternally glad I did, as the word has become something of a totem, a core value for me.

    I am humbled as I try to explain….

    The way I understand it, querencia speaks to those places that trigger an absolute, complete and instinctive sense of belonging and home. It is all about the places we feel most elementally safe and secure in our hearts.

    Maine is my querencia. As is the boat. My kids. And I certainly found it when I first met my wife.

    To my mind this is a near-holy word.

    One day back in the mid-90’s, a very dear friend and I were walking around an island and were skirting the head of a lovely little cove when I found this Great Blue Heron skull lying in the rockweed. It was a shock finding something this beautiful and I was immensely moved by the moment.

    I had been to that cove numerous times over the years and had, more often than not, seen these regal birds (known along the Maine coast as “shitpokes”) stalking their prey ever so slowly around the perimeter.

    Thus, this particular bird died in a favorite place…it had doubtless spent much time in this cove and here its particularly distinctive skull came to lie, in one of the bird’s querencias, hence the title I gave this photograph.

    I loved my friend so much that I gave her the skull on the spot, and I cannot think of another person to whom I would have given this treasure. A couple of years after she died, I got this skull back, and it is, indeed, ever a treasure.

    I think many of us can relate to the concept of querencia. Last week I thought immediately of it when I read Sara Nics’ sublime "Out of Africa," the last line of which asks, “how does a heart - tired, traveled, and toughened - find its way home?”

    I offer no real answer to Sara’s question as to “how,” but I know, and I know she knows, that faith and love and time all tend to lead us to that place we can truly call home.

    This, if we are very fortunate, is the way of things.

    Coda: When Buckley first explained this to me, he mentioned that in bullfighting it is very important that the matador is able to discern to discern the individual bulls' querencia when they are in the ring. The matador then uses the bull's sense of safety to its fatal disadvantage.

    This can also be the way of things in this life we live.

    Ah, the lessons to be learned as we all keep finding our way home.
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