When we crawled into Seattle, 34 years ago, hauling a small trailer, stressed, mildly traumatized, poor, and definitely not talking to each other, it took me a while. I had priorities, mostly finding a job and staying married. I kept my head down and trudged.
Eventually, though, I looked up and around, and I knew. This was home.
My memories of the first 11 years of life in southern California were already murky. I was an Arizona guy, my formative years spent in the desert, my roots firmly planted in hot, rocky soil.
But my true Arizona home was north, in the mountains. However my college days shaped me (I have no real idea), they were spent among pine trees and a lot of snow, a short drive from the Grand Canyon, in a region probably not easily identified as Arizona by a spectator who sees a photograph or hears a description. Nearly 7000 feet above sea level, this is where I learned most everything.
And once I was here, in the Pacific Northwest, I recognized my destination as being, actually, my destiny. The trees, mountains, water, community sensibilities—this was where I was always headed, I thought, and while it’s certainly not for everyone, it was a good call. Home was now gray, rainy, cloudy and dark, a good part of the time, but I understood that this was a price, a Christmas package to be unwrapped once summer got going. I was immersed in natural beauty that still stuns me.
So I’m a little stuck-up about natural beauty.
I once teased my mother-in-law, a true Texan chauvinist (but aren’t they all), about the Lone Star state’s lack of mountains. This is true enough; look at a relief map of the United States and you’ll notice the difference east of the Rockies, and west. Not even close. We’ve got the real mountains out here.
And she laughed a little, and then fretted that they’d have to get me out to the Texas hill country so I could see for myself. Hills? Puhleese.
In 2004, I drove south from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio, a quick trip that didn’t change my mind. I was so close, I was told, if I only had more time…but what I saw on that trip was more of the same. It reminded me a bit of central Arizona, in fact, nothing strange but nothing all that exciting, and certainly nothing comparable to my home.
When my son-in-law’s parents moved back to Texas from New Mexico, they ended up in Boerne, firmly inside the hill country zone, and I noticed. I spent a day there in 2013, awaiting the imminent birth of our Bixie, and I could see it was different. There were actual hills, for one thing.
But it took my road trip from Arizona to Austin with my mom a couple of years ago to truly open my eyes. The last leg of the trip took us directly through this magic land, rolling bumps of green and sage and oak (or whatever; I don’t know the names of trees), deer aplenty, beauty enough for anyone. I understood, then. Got it. This was the Texas of my movies, and my imagination.
And history. I’ve read enough of Lyndon Johnson’s life to recognize the names of towns and the descriptions of what I now saw for myself.
A few months ago, my daughter and her family moved to the hill country from Austin, now closer to the in-laws and outside of San Antonio, close enough but still rural, apart, country living, small-town ethos, Dollar Stores and, yeah, deer. They live on a lake, dammed up and created by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the pictures were spectacular.
The reality, too.
This can’t last, I think. Maybe a couple of years, and then the lure of good schools and a better community fit will force their hand, but in the interim I just wallow, enjoy, marvel. Anywhere with Bixie is my happy place, but this makes it happier.