I’ve left bits of myself all over the country. My roots are in Tennessee, but my heart resides in North Carolina. There’s a chunk of my soul in Georgia, another sliver in Kansas, and a chip on Pikes Peak. If someone asked me right now, where I want to live the rest of my life, I’d have no answer. I love something about everywhere I’ve lived. Whenever I visit Tennessee, driving over Monteagle Mountain always makes me cry. The rolling foothills of the Appalachians that embrace my hometown are the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen. Every time I look at them, I see the ghosts of the Cherokee and Chickasaws, and the white pioneers who first built cabins among them. It’s an ancient land, proud and strong, with good earth and clear, clean streams.
Then, there’s North Carolina where I first settled at the tender age of 20, halfway through college and newly married. The ancestor to Tennessee, which shares our mountains, but has that lovely antithesis, the beach. From the Outer Banks to the Piedmont, the Sandhills, on down to Fort Fisher, North Carolina has something for everyone. You can hear the Scotch-Irish influence of the first settlers in the cadence and music of the mountain people today. The tempestuous weather of the coast belies the serenity of its inhabitants. The remnant of the band of Cherokee who escaped the Trail of Tears still live there today in their town of the same name. The modern urban centers of Charlotte and the Triad fly in the face of the old clichés about the South. I always feel at home in the Tarheel state, and I run to the mountains every chance I get to relax and rejuvenate my spirit.
Ah, but what about Kansas? Kansas is wholesome and good. The nicest people in the country live in Kansas, straight talking, “salt of the earth,” “give you the shirt off their back” kind of people. The soil is black there, it’s so fertile. No wonder we call it the breadbasket of the world. We used to joke that all you had to do was plant a seed, look at it, say, “grow,” and it would. We lived in a town where everybody came to every school event, whether they had a kid in school or not. No exaggeration, the whole town came to the elementary school’s fall festival. At least half the town travelled with the high school football team to away games. I’ve never seen a more invested, caring community, and one that was by no means affluent. But when a bond referendum was issued to pay for the expansion of the elementary school to accommodate fifth and sixth grades so that they could move them out of the rundown, older intermediate school, the bond passed overwhelmingly. I’m not even sure anyone voted against it.
We left Kansas for Colorado. Now, there’s a state that is complex and heartbreakingly lovely. The weather can be a tad schizophrenic, though. It snowed on May 14 one year, and then the pool opened on Memorial Day. You can see all four seasons on any given day. You can’t grow anything in Colorado by just sticking it in the ground. It’s too sandy and arid, but the landscape is awe inspiring. When I first saw the Rockies, I thought they were the ugliest mountains I’d ever seen. Brown and rocky with nothing but pines and Aspens, I considered them against my native Appalachians and found them pale in comparison, but the Rockies woo you. They wear their snow like a white mink and sparkle and shine, drawing your eye to their peaks and making you long to see what’s up there. Just take an oxygen mask when you give in and accept their invitation. Their beauty is deceptive. They’re as dangerous as a femme fatale. The idea of people settling and surviving in that landscape with the primitive tools and privations of the 19th century boggles my mind. Those pioneers had to have been made of granite as hard as the mountains themselves. While we lived there, we experienced wild fires, drought, blizzards, and floods, and yet, I’d go back in a heartbeat. It’s where the sunshiny, happy people live, and it suited our active, outdoorsy lifestyle.
While we lived in Colorado we vacationed twice in Taos, New Mexico. “Land of Enchantment” is the motto of New Mexico, an apt description if ever I’ve heard one. New Mexico is bewitching. You pass miles and miles of sagebrush fields and red rock formations with tiny, sad towns in between. The people are quiet and dark, advertising their Spanish and Pueblo heritage through large, brown eyes, and straight, blue-black hair. They are kind, generous people, and proud. More than once, while Jay was out mountain biking, he received directions or help from someone because they recognized his affiliation with the military and befriended him because they’d served or someone in their family had served. They are storytellers and warriors. When you ask one of them a question, you must wait patiently for the answer and listen to the story that precedes it. We took a couple of day trips to Santa Fe, but it’s pretty much like any other big city, just more colorful. I fell in love with the idea of living in the green Taos valley or up on Angel Fire in a pueblo style house with satillo tile on the floors and colorful Mexican ceramics in the bathroom, and miles of sagebrush all around.
It’s a hard choice, deciding where to stay. Maybe we’ve been gypsies too long, but I don’t think it’s the idea of permanence that’s the problem. I like the thought of having my own home where I can paint the walls and renovate the kitchen if I want, but where do we find the house? What if there’s someplace marvelous out there with the perfect house and a kitchen that doesn’t need renovation? After all, there are still a lot of places we’ve never been.