“Do the accidents of our births mean we can’t feel hiraeth—only homesickness?” Pamela Petro wrote those words in her essay “Dreaming in Welsh“. I’ve just come across this new word – hiraeth. It’s Welsh and has no English translation. To hear it spoken is a kind of ear candy.
The way Petro writes about hiraeth is almost like she’s describing it as a hex, as a curse. “I’m American, but I have a hiraeth on me for Wales.” For someone such as myself who has spent so many years feeling this unbearable feeling of homesickness, I was liberated the moment this word presented itself to me last night. Homesickness is so juvenile, it seems. It’s so sleepaway-camp-like. I’m too old for that. Besides, I have never been able to pinpoint where it is exactly that I want to be or where I belong, for that matter.
Yesterday morning, though, before all this talk about hiraeth, I was dreading the upcoming wintery forecast. Snow, ice, freezing rain. I was as prepared as one can be for the next few days of cold and gray (called brumous – another one of my new words). My Vitamin D, my SAD lamp, my books about Norse goddesses and their love affairs with the seasonal moons. They’re all there in my winter arsenal, the only weaponry I can think of at a time like this.
Instead of having breakfast, I grabbed a cup of coffee and started thinking about Upper Michigan, my childhood. (I don’t miss childhood, I just miss the time in my life when things weren’t so disheartening, which goes back to my earliest years in the north.) Those thoughts tend to lead to other thoughts, thoughts like fishing for smelt with my dad in the Dead River, sticky sap on my mittens, the peninsula’s mining industry*. (I don’t know why the mining industry weighs so heavily on my mind, but there has been some serious controversy happening up that way. Besides, iron ore pellets are very special to me. I have my reasons.)
Before I knew it, the snowflakes were coming down hard and fast here in Oklahoma City. These weren’t the kind of snowflakes a seasoned winterling would scoff at, either. These were serendipitous snowflakes, the big and fat kind that I’m convinced were falling from the sky just for me. They were accumulating softly in some places and freezing into dangerously icy piles in others. I found myself feeling very strange about the whole thing, too. This swelling of, dare I say, contentment (?) was forming inside of me. I smiled. I laughed about it. I was wholly confused by my behavior.
Then my husband suggested we go outside and enjoy the big, fat snowflakes from the warmth of our steamy hot tub. So we did. And it was the most fun I’ve had in a very, very, very long time. In fact, for a few moments I was so happy that I thought I would cry.
We stared up at the grayness of the sky (the brumous!) past the bare limbs of our backyard trees. Nearby a neighbor had lit a fire. The air was perfectly chilled and the scent of burning wood permeated all around. I am not too embarrassed to admit that I pretended I was back up in the big north woods, just for a little bit. I had to. I have a hiraeth on me for the place. The snowy woods, the sticky sap, the scented pines, the bears, the wolves, the Northern Lights.
And so I’ve added this hiraeth to my winter arsenal. Finally, it has a name.