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I began my life as the fourth of six brothers living with our parents in rural places on the unmarked boundary between Appalachia and farm country in Ohio. Chaos reigned, and I escaped as often as I could.
The first place I remember living was a farmhouse. We rented the whole place, but did no farming beyond keeping a dairy cow for the milk. My first refuge was a disused chicken coop. I recall a pleasant summer day and the scent, which had mellowed over time to a pleasant earthiness. We lived there until I started school.
We moved to assorted “real country” places for the next few years. I always found wooded areas nearby, and they saved me from being inside during the summer months without school to take me away. I learned a love of nature that became a religion. Climbing a tree so high that none of my family could follow me, standing silently in a may apple patch, or exploring a little stream in a pasture gave me things for my spirit that I still cherish. Being home never did that for me.
We moved into a village of 1,000 people after Dad got sick, and I no longer had immediate access to quiet places. My youngest brother claimed the “really private” bedroom; I got a room beyond the big room that our various other brothers occupied. I liked having at least a scrap of quiet, but learning to ride a bicycle really saved my sanity. I could get out of town in a few minutes, reaching quiet woods very soon. Beyond that, a world of solitary travel opened up. As long as I paid enough attention to rural traffic, I could go for hours looking at different scenery, enjoying the rhythm of pedaling, and learning about the county.
My other refuge is reading. My first grade teacher has my undying gratitude for teaching me to read, recognizing my ability, and supporting it. At night, all winter, and whenever I could not escape physically, I could go anywhere writers could imagine by reading. In time, I reached the point where I could ignore just about anything that happened around me. Now that I no longer need to escape reality, reading still serves me well. I probably need not explain how much it does for me as a college student, and I still need the occasional break. Between time in nature and my reading, I always have a safe place.