When I first sat down to write this post, it was still the middle of summer. From my dining room table, I could see a fuzzy-tailed squirrel, nature’s acrobat, scamper across the top of the wooden fence around our backyard. The sun was just peaking over the third story of our building to kiss the petals of the tallest sunflowers across the alley. I could hear the steady chirp of crickets. I’m listening to them now; they seem to never stop.
As I sit down to finish this post, it is officially autumn. The days are becoming gradually shorter, with cool mornings and breezy nights. Trees are going from green to orange yellow red. Most of the sunflowers have wilted. Each time a squirrel jumps from one branch to another, a few leaves come wind-sailing down to Earth. The sweet shift of the seasons, something hard to find in Southern Arizona, is poignant here in the Midwest.
Late afternoon in our backyard
Things are not so bad in Missouri. I’d go so far as to say they are quite nice, actually. During our first weeks here, most of my questions—posed out loud to no one in particular, as usual—were of the “what type of plant is that?” nature. I’ve learned and forgotten the names of so many plants: coleus, hosta, cone flower… Things just grow here! Things I’ve never seen before. And there are trees, so many, many trees. The streets are lined with sidewalks, which makes getting around on foot much more enjoyable. It seems that you need only drive another mile to reach the next park, which is just as green and inviting as the last. Good food is ubiquitous and inevitable. People smile. Children play. The sun rises each morning. So why am I so often overcome with sorrow? I am surrounded by all of these good, pleasant things, and yet all I can long for is home.
This will be the second time in my life that I’ve pined for Arizona. The first time, when I was living in France, I was surprised to learn that a critical aspect of who I am is inextricably linked to the place—the actual geography—that I call home. I feel deeply tied to Arizona, its skies, its mountains, its forests, and its deserts. It is part of who I am. So when I feel homesick, I am not just thinking of all the people I love back home; I am longing for Arizona. The place. Having experienced that homesickness once before, I was more prepared for it this time around in St. Louis. But that hasn’t made it any less difficult. All I want, in this very moment, is to stand atop a mountain and be able to see for miles in all directions, to be able to see the sun kiss the horizon, to be able to take a deep breath of crisp Arizona air.
But there aren’t any mountains here. Not a single one.
I cannot control what St. Louis lacks. As I did in Paris, I have had to be very intentional about choosing to look for and appreciate what St. Louis offers. And believe me, it offers plenty! There is always something going on, and most events are free. Two weeks ago was the Great Hot Air Balloon Race, and this weekend we went to the first of several Oktoberfest celebrations. Even if there is nothing going on, I can always take a bike ride through beautiful Forest Park or visit any of the numerous free museums. When I start to write all of these things down, it reminds me that St. Louis is truly a wonderful place to live. This city gives me a lot to be grateful for. Even so, it doesn’t feel like home. Not yet.
Fun at Oktoberfest St. Louis; photo courtesy of Nick Youmans
Places are, for me, like people. It takes time to get to know them, to figure them out, and to make space in my heart. For me to feel at home in a place, I have to build a relationship with it. And like any relationship, that takes time. In fact, both of my moves outside of Arizona have felt a little bit like online dating, except once you go out on the first date, you’re stuck in that relationship for the foreseeable future. I did some research on St. Louis, checked it out, asked around. The background check was good enough to convince me to give the place a shot, and St. Louis made a good first impression. But like any new relationship, it has a honeymoon phase and a shit-just-got-real phase. That’s the phase I’m in now, and there’s no going back. But I have high hopes for the Lou. And assuming this desert critter survives the winter, things just might get more serious.