I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and thus am undeniably what people call a city boy. Though in my youth my family spent summers in the country near Monticello in upstate New York, I never saw a real mountain. To me, a mountain was the typical rounded wooded hills of the Catskills and Adirondack Mountains.
The first time I traveled west of the Mississippi was when I was 33 years old, in 1986. I and five other caving friends went to New Mexico to attend that year’s annual caving convention. (We spent all of three hours at this week long convention. Instead of sitting in a college classroom listening to cavers talk about caving, we went caving in the Guadalupe Mountains, which to my mind was far more fun.)
When we first arrived in El Paso, we rented a car and started the three hour drive east towards Carlsbad Caverns where we planned to camp and cave for the first few days. At one point during the drive we stopped, just to look at the view. For a born Easterner who was used to hiking in forests where it might take you hours to reach a point where the trees thinned out enough to give you a lookout or vista, the west’s openness was breathtaking. Wherever you looked you could see for fifty to a hundred miles.
As I stood by the side of the road, I noticed something else, but could not put my finger on it at first. Something that was not obvious was different.
Then it struck me. The road was empty, with no traffic, while the sky was clear, with no airplanes overhead. In the East, no matter how remote the campsite, there is always the whir of cars going by in the distance or the drone of airplanes somewhere overhead.
For the first time in my life, I was in the great outdoors and all I could hear was the gentle wind.
At that moment I fell in love with the American southwest, and resolved to someday move there.
It is now twenty-five years later. For many reasons, the move was delayed. When I escaped from New York in 1998 (where the quality of life is poor, unless you have a great deal of money), I had considered going directly to Arizona. However, I chose instead to move to Washington, DC because that was where the research facilities were for the books I was then writing. Then I got married, and until Diane retired it was impossible to leave DC.
When she retired three years ago, however, we immediately began spending the winters in different places in Arizona, trying each out to find the one right place to live. This past winter we tried Tucson, and found it seemed right for us. We then went back in the summer to make sure we’d like it during its hottest time, and found the heat to be no problem. In fact, we like it, having gone hiking in 110 degree temperatures several times with no problems.
We got back to Maryland in late July and put the house up for sale, and were lucky to sell it quickly in this horrible economy. Later this week the movers will come to take our stuff, and on Saturday we will pack up the cars and pets and leave, convoying our two cars for a five day drive across Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and into Tucson, Arizona, which will then be our new home town.
It is for this reason that my posting has been light these last few weeks as we pack up our house. It will probably be lighter towards the end of this week, when the movers arrive to take everything away. Though I will have internet access during the cross-country drive, during the transition from house to car I will probably not have the ability to look at the web.
When all is said and done, however, I will be posting with even more vigor, from a place where I can sit in my backyard and watch the light change on the distant mountains, watch the infinite stars overhead, and wonder what lies up there, behind the black.
From Connie Dover:
I will journey to the place
That was shaped by heaven’s hand
I will build for me a bower
Where angels’ footprints mark the land
Where castle rocks in towers high
Kneel to valleys wide and green
All my thoughts are turned to you
My waking hope, my sleeping dream
I am going to the West
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