My husband has often accused me of having “grass is greener” syndrome. I am constantly longing for new locales, broader horizons, bigger things (not material things, goodness knows I can barely manage the stuff I do have). My usual defense is that I am a romantic prone to nostalgia and sentimentality. Also, I am highly suggestible. So, when I want to go to a new place, it is likely I have seen an article or television show proclaiming the wonders of said new destination. And, when I think about a place I once lived with fondness and a certain yen to return, it is not that I am ungrateful for my current surroundings, it’s just that the air has carried me a delicious scent from my past and I want, at least for that moment, to follow it home.
By way of backstory, I grew up military. I moved every three years, though sometimes it was sooner than that. Specifically, I recall a short, but very long, eight-month stint in Rhode Island. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and magical in its own way. But, leaving Hawaii to go to blizzards isn’t really the progression a person normally would choose.
As a kid, springtime usually marked orders time, the time when my dad would be filled in on our new duty station. So for most of my adult life, after a period of two to three years in one place, sometimes not even that long, when the days got longer, flowers bloomed, and seasonal allergies set in, I got that faraway look and started dreaming of where I would like to go next. Sometimes it was a place I have never been, but often in my heart there was a longing to return to a place I have been. A place that at one point I desperately wanted to shed like snakeskin.
My husband and I will celebrate a whopping 14 years together in a week and a half. We have been together more than a third of my life. So, he has heard the good, the bad, and the ugly about most places I have lived. Though, the older I get, the less bad and ugly enter the stories and the more wistfully good memories surface. Isn’t this just the nature of aging?
My husband lived in the same small town growing up. In fact, he had never lived outside the state of his birth when we met. By nature and profession, he is a scientific, rational thinker. I am not. I have been learning to temper emotion with important things like fact, but we still come from very different places analytically speaking. So he does not and cannot understand my would-be-nomad periods. He has learned to anticipate them and weather them with a calm reserve (we have two small children now, student loans, and a mortgage, so hopping off to the Seychelles wouldn’t be prudent). He has even learned how to channel them into a joint dream for our future (south of France here we come). But on a fundamental level, he just cannot relate. Yet, that does not mean he is wrong.
We moved to our new locale in sunny southern California a little over a year ago. When we first got here, I was determined to love it. I soaked up the mountain vistas, the canyon hikes, and the Malibu beaches. The beaches really are spectacular. Then the honeymoon period wore off and I was desperately longing for the Bay Area, our home for the previous seven years. That was the longest I had ever lived in any one place and it was home. My homesickness was made worse by my employer’s restriction on travel funds, so I appeared for important presentations by video. A fiscally wise move, but it ended my monthly sojourns back to the place I love. Of course, for the year prior to our move, I encouraged my husband to look at positions in Europe and Seattle, even Bar Harbor, Maine. The fast pace of the city was getting to me. A burglary on our home and the constant presence of police helicopters made me feel insecure. I wanted a simpler life. And now I have it. But, am I appreciating it? Well, I suspect by now you know the answer.
Each place I have lived has its own brand of beauty. Each one has left its indelible mark on me like a tattoo. Each one has its siren song.
Recently, I have been hearing Virginia calling to me. When I was there, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was desperate to get back to the west coast. I wasn’t an east coast person, or at least I had told myself so. I hated the freezing winters and the steaming summers. But, as the weather warms up here and the trees fill out, I can actually smell the summer there, feel the humidity on my skin with a fondness. In my memory, the summers are tropical and sultry. Something to be enjoyed with a tall glass of lemonade like Elizabeth Taylor would in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. We all know, though, that Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Taylor were masters of fiction. And so is my memory. The last time I was back in the mid-Atlantic during summer I was decently miserable. My parents can attest to that.
Still, I can sit out back near the jasmine and orange blossoms here and smell the dewy grass on a summer morning there, an earthy, musty scent with a hint of urine. Yes, urine, but I still love it.
So, what is an ever-wandering girl to do when circumstances have presented a wandering hiatus and she doesn’t want to feel boxed in? I suppose this is where I tap into mindfulness and living in the present. Not to mention gratitude for the simplicity I was seeking.
I went for a hike the other day and when I would catch myself wishing for a bigger variety of wildflowers or shady trees, I tried to focus in on what I could see right before me. There were rabbits, quail, hawks, lizards, and beautiful flowers. The cacti were just starting to sprout prickly pears. The intense sun was a blessing I had wished for on many a snowy morning in Chicago and many a foggy morning in San Francisco. And I was only a ten-minute walk from home. Not to mention I was accompanied by my baby girl and a new friend, both of whom deserved my presence and attention. Blocking out the distractions of previous hikes in other places did help me to feel profoundly grateful for my current situation and helped me to accept this place as home. I don’t know if we will stay here permanently or not, but we are here now and I should enjoy it while I can. Permanence is just as much a fiction as some of my memories.
I love that I am a dreamer and a traveler. Those things will never change. I have been so blessed to live as many places as I have and to have seen every state (though I have no recollection of Alaska, so I will be going back). My vacations were spent in national parks as we moved from one side of the country to the other. And I hope that I can pass on my love of each place I have been and will go to my children. Wanderlust isn’t a bad thing, so long as you can appreciate where you are. So, my project for the next week, month, year, forever, I guess, is to keep noticing the beauty around me and to give thanks for it. I will make an effort to love this place, warts and all, while I am in, not when I am some place else. But, I will likely never tell my husband that he was right about this one.