Sunday, March 21, 2010

Breaking up with a place

It's raining outside, a drizzly steady downpour, the kind that is serious, not a flirty little mist. I mention this because this kind of weather is relatively rare in my valley. However, it was very common in Sitka. In fact, the days it didn't rain there were remarkable, days where we felt a little off balance.

I've written a bit about this before, so blame it on the rain, which conjures up all sorts of memories. What I have been thinking about is how leaving a place you loved feels like breaking up. For whatever reason, you know it is time to go, but you are filled with the same regrets and sorrow. You can "stay friends" with a place but it is never really the same. If I ever go back to Sitka, it will be as a visitor.

When I left Sitka, I ended a relationship as well. It dragged on for a few more miserable months, but it only seemed to work in Sitka. Eventually it limped to an painful close.

I've thought about this before. In my twenties I was irresponsibly engaged to a man I'll call Steve. Steve lived in a remote mountain valley. Among the slightly quizzical ranchers, he seemed a fascinating anomaly: a backcountry skier! A firefighter! He carried business cards that claimed he was "addicted to danger." I fell in love with all this as only someone in their twenties can.

Something strange happened, though, when I took Steve out of his environment. Back east, he lost his luster. He fidgeted, made judgmental pronouncements about my friends. He hastily escaped, not before asking a mutual friend to spy on me.

Perhaps I am making too much of this, but sometimes I wonder if I fall for places, not people. Maybe it is the mountains I love and not a specific person who lives in them. Take this one mystifying, blue-eyed man to Kansas, would he be as intriguing as "Joe" was back in the nineties, knee deep in a trout stream, casting flies?

I think, or at least I hope, that every mountain lover has felt this way. If I had to choose, if someone wanted me to choose, between living here or say, Washington DC, which would I pick? I'm probably supposed to insert some language about sacrifice and true love here. But deep down, I know I would pick the mountains.

I've thought a bit too about how people are changed by the place they live. Does the environment around you shape you into a different person than you used to be? Or do you gravitate to places that feel like you? As for me, I once lived in a place where I could not breathe. It was hot, dusty and conservative. I left every weekend to find places where I felt more like me-high, green, alpine-y places. Every weekend, driving back, I was overcome with misery.

I'm lucky because I had the opportunity to leave. Working for the Forest Service, you are almost expected to take off every five years or so. Now I am in a place that feels like home. But almost like a second marriage, I look back at places I have left. They are like old high school boyfriends. Probably not so great or else I would not have left. Easy to blur the lines after a time.

Okay cyber readers, I would love to hear what you have to say.

1 comment:

  1. I know exactly what you mean. My wife likes to drop the comment every once in a while that we should move back to MN or WI to be closer to our families; so our kids could see their grandparents more often, etc. It sounds nice, and I know lots of people move back home for those very reasons, but I just can't make that leap. And I even really liked living in Minneapolis - still consider it one of the better cities to live in this country - but I just can't bear the thought of leaving the mountains. It feels like I'd be voluntarily stripping a part of my soul away. Plus, when our kids get older, I want to teach them the things that I love about the mountains; enjoy the hiking, biking, skiing, etc. I don't know what I'd do with them in our free time back in the flatlands. Yeah, the lakes of MN are nice and I miss them, but I'm not exactly a boat person or fisherman, so....

    I think for certain types of people, myself being one of them, proximity to the proper geograhpy is more important to happiness than proximity to family or old friends.

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