Desert Pangs

Ten years ago today, I left Arizona for North Carolina.

Ten years is a very long time. I have a hard time believing it’s been that long, or only that long. Many, many things have happened since then, some of them terrible, most of them good. (Much of it was front-loaded into the first four years, which were crazy and awful–the last six have been wonderful and rather sedate.)

But I still miss the desert.

I am very happy here in North Carolina, don’t get me wrong. I have Kevin and a garden that becomes extravagantly, absurdly lush given hardly any encouragement. I am on the spring migration route and obscure warblers routinely pause in my yard to sip water and catch bugs. I love it very much.

But there is something about the desert–perhaps specifically the Sonoran desert, although the high desert in Washington is similar–something about the strange Spartan puzzle-box vegetation and the bleached bone light, something that I miss. It goes dormant for long periods and then I see photos of saguaros and palo verde and top-knotted quail and I want to get up out of my chair and walk into the desert.

Well, it would be a long walk. I am thousands of miles away. There are days when I can feel every one of those miles and think “What the hell am I doing here, in this soggy, ridiculous place?”

If I were to die–and someday, of course, I will–I would not be surprised to find myself in the desert again. I would stand beside a saguaro and think “Of course this is what the afterlife looks like. I should have guessed. What else would it look like, really?”

Which probably proves that this is my internal landscape after all, and perhaps I’m a fool to live so far apart from it.

Kevin, who knows about my occasional pangs, has suggested that someday when we are fabulously wealthy (or at least somewhat more than we are now), we can buy a house in the desert and move between them. It’s an appealing thought. The problem is that I do not know how many seasons I would be willing to sacrifice–winter here is charmless, high summer there is no great shakes, but where do you spend spring or fall? Do I love the rare cactus flowers and the bright pink sage more, or the green stalks of wild indigo and the mating songs of frogs? What am I willing to miss out on? And what gets neglected? Even the best gardens don’t do well when the gardener is gone for months at a stretch.

Well. I’m young yet. 36 is perhaps halfway to my actuarial allotted span. There’s still time. And for the most part, I love my weird little garden and my weird little town and would not trade them, and perhaps if I did move, I’d pine for them as much as I do for saguaros now.

But I do feel the occasional pang.

6 thoughts on “Desert Pangs

  1. Wolf Lahti says:

    Where to spend Autumn? New England, no question.

    Spring? Most likely Paris. :)

    You think you have it soggy? I live in Washington state, the great Pacific Northwet. Sure we have mountains and deserts, but they are hours away.

    We all have our internal landscapes, and what I miss is Michigan, the land of Big Lakes, particularly the Upper Peninsula, which I know you are at least passing familiar with. I miss having four distinct seasons, instead of AutumnWinterSpring rain and Summer water rationing. I miss being able to walk into the woods and see no other person (except perhaps a bear) for days at a time, of hearing a wolf howl at the Northern Lights—to be answered by another wolf disturbingly/enticingly near. I miss places with names like Laughing Whitefish Falls and towns called Freda and Ralph.

    But I suspect that what I am really feeling when I say I miss these things is the nostalgia that comes from a sense of having lost a simpler, happier time, an internal landscape seen through childlike eyes.

  2. H. Valli says:

    I think that, if we’re lucky, we find a landscape that clicks with something inside. For me it’s northern lower Michigan, where i was born. I’ve lived in NC since ’83, but I’ve returned to MI as often as possible. I love the sight of storms coming in off the lakes, the scent of the air just before it snows, the cool green light that you can find under stands of poplar and oaks even in August.

    I just came in from walking the cat, and in the land of my heart–with snow currently measured in feet–I doubt I’d be doing that. So there’s definitely an upside to living here. But I toss a resume at every job opening remotely near my field when I see one up north. One day I’ll be back there again.

  3. Tori says:

    Ursula, I know you’ve referenced Terry Pratchett before, but have you ever read Small Gods? It’s in the Discworld series, and if you’re feeling deserts and the afterlife and wonderful writing, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a lovely read no matter what, utterly Pratchett-esque, and with luck it’ll hit that desert-longing spot just right.

  4. Don Hilliard says:

    Ah, god. I’ve lived on Oregon’s Central Coast for just over 7 years now, and it’s really lovely…but I’m amazed at how powerful the sensations (when I’m visiting) and even sights (when I’m not) of the coastal/Southern California landscape I grew up in can be. Home still looks, feels and smells like home. (I was unexpectedly jolted into tears awhile back watching a DVD of the old ’70s Saturday-morning SHAZAM!, because the scenery went right to my heart*. I discovered not long after that the episode in question was partially filmed in my home area.)

    *Or liver.

  5. Jarin says:

    Gods, I know this feeling. I’m a snow-child from Alaska, living in Southern California. I like it here, but sometimes… I just get this soul-deep longing for the white-capped mountains and the crunch of old snow beneath my boots.

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