Illustration by RAY GOTO
I’M LYING PRONE on my yoga mat, staring at the ceiling. I’m supposed to be focused on clearing my body of tension and my mind of thoughts, but as a newbie yoga student, I’m not very disciplined. Instead, I’m thinking about the history of the building I’m lying in and the ingenuity and bravery of the new owners — also my friends — who oversaw the renovation of what was a kindergarten school that dates back to 1899. Today it is home to Clearing House Savannah Center for Art and Spirit, where classes in yoga, visual art and writing connect a like-minded community.
“Allow your body to feel connected to the ground beneath you,” the instructor prompts in a soft voice.
It suddenly hits me that in spite of my unquiet mind and inability to Zen out, I do, in fact, feel connected. I feel connected to the familiar people around me. To the historic space and the stories tucked into the grooves of the pine boards. I feel connected to Savannah.
Do you know what they call gnats in Savannah? Yankee repellent.
It’s a joke I’ve heard a number of times since moving here from the Pacific Northwest in 2000.
“There are the come here’s and the from here’s,” a fellow transplant solemnly advised years ago, back when I thought “tea” was hot and unsweetened and “flip-flops” were called “thongs.” Along with my neutral accent and general distaste for fried food, I clearly wasn’t a local, nor would I ever be.
Or so I thought.
Back on the yoga mat, I think about how I’ve grown roots here after 23 years — how Savannah has grown on me, woven me into the fabric of the community so I feel welcomed, at home, connected.
I resisted Savannah at first. I pined for the familiar — the evergreens that touched the clouds and the rugged snow-capped mountains, my family and friends, and my wardrobe of fleece …
I realize now that I initially didn’t want to see what the Hostess City was trying to offer me because I didn’t intend on staying. My husband would complete his graduate degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and then we’d hightail it back to the land of gray skies and incessant drizzle, a place where “historic” means anything that predates Microsoft.
But Savannah’s hospitality is hard to resist, and before I knew it, the people around me were helping connect me to the city and to discover my place within it. As a writer, I’ve been able to go on Southern adventures, like tagging great white sharks and counting alligators for the Department of Natural Resources. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with the city’s well-known characters like Paula Deen, Sonny Seiler and the truly unforgettable Captain Judy Helmey, and share their stories. And I’d like to think that as a SCAD professor, I’m helping shape some futures, too.
I’ve developed a preference for shrimp and grits, the Bulldogs and long, drawn-out vowels. I’ve learned to appreciate the drive from Wilmington Island over the bridge that leads to Thunderbolt, where the sun’s rays reflect off the intracoastal water and the seagrass that lines it. I know to quickly drop my speed to 35 mph or risk a ticket, just like I know to avoid Victory Drive at 3 p.m., Skidaway Road at 5 p.m. and President Street at all costs because of that god-forsaken train. I know that azaleas bloom in spring, camellias in winter and that you shouldn’t ever “crape murder” your crape myrtle. And you can guarantee that I’ll fall into a deep depression along with all the other Savannahians during the seven gray, drizzly days of the year.
Like every other local, I officially know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy, and I’d be more than happy to connect you.
I don’t feel as connected to my hometown anymore; those roots seem to have dried up. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve branched out and built a life distinctly my own with the help of the people who surround me.
This is all to say that while I’m not a “from here,” I’m not exactly a “come here” anymore. I like to think of myself more as a “stay here.”