I hold a firm belief that I could live anywhere. There are people who say they would never move to certain places for various reasons, but while I hope that God never moves me to Guam (more snakes per square foot than any other place on earth), or Phoenix or New Jersey, I do sincerely believe that I could live happily in just about any place.
Working at a summer camp that traveled to different locations in the US every week gave me an indefinable list of experiences and widened my world.
I saw fireflies for the first time under trees in Michigan's thick summer night air; heard Aaron Copeland's 'Fanfare for the Common Man' played on the the stereo of a 15-passenger van as we came over the rise and the Grand Canyon unrolled before me, drove through spectacular lightning storms in New Mexico, climbed on giant haybales in Arkansas, and ate ribs in Memphis.
King Kamehaha Highway from Pearl Harbor to the North Shore of Oahu
We cultivated a love for the road, for tiny midwestern stopover towns with their strange attractions like giant balls of string and an overall-clad good ol' boy explaining how he built a working windmill by piecing an antique tractor together with an antique windmill blade and mounting the whole thing on a giant pump balanced by a 1-ton chunk of concrete and rotating like a gigantic, grounded weathervane. Mom 'n Pop restaurants with delicacies like Chicken-fried steak and mayonnaise-slathered club sandwiches. Classic pieces of highway like the Grapevine in California and the New Jersey Turnpike and Route 66.
Side trips to rock climb at Robber's Cave in Oklahoma, tour Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, wander Cabela's in Minnesota, explore the Hoover Dam, the Mall of America, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco's Embarcadero, San Antonio's Riverwalk, Malibu beach, the Atlantic coast in Maryland, and the traditional end-of-summer staff dinner and Pike Place Market ramble in Seattle.
Thanks to field trip day at camp and an art concentration at college, I led field trips to art museums across the country; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Getty Museum in Malibu, Berkeley Art Museum, and Seattle Art Museum.
My friend Anne and I ate shrimp from a shrimp truck on O'ahu.
Anne gave up her fear of shrimp,
I gave up my fear of mouse and cockroach-infested food trucks.
All of this and more taught me that there is much to love about each square foot of this world. I was blessed to travel with experts who knew that you eat ribs in Memphis and tacos in New Mexico and cheese in Wisconsin and seafood in Seattle and Barbeque in Kansas City (and In'n'Out in California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona wherever you can spot it); that you need to let go of your previous expectations and allow yourself to dwell in the geography of where on earth you stand at that particular moment. They knew that you relax into the joy of that place, howsomever you can find it.
I found that it is impossible to resist the charm of the rolling green hills of Kansas in June (a place I had previously assumed to be desert) while lying on the warm grass as the sun set in the backyard of a wonderful family who hosted the whole staff for a picnic dinner at their farm one night.
The Blue Mountains of Kentucky took my breath away. I remember standing on an unromantic gas station curb staring out over an ocean of mountain ridges in Kentucky and thinking "I could live here."
I discovered Tornado warnings are as commonplace in Minnesota as earthquakes are in the Pacific Northwest.
I found out that New Jersey's moniker "the Garden State" is more ironic than anything else.
I learned that Magnolia trees in North Carolina are the best climbing trees in the world.
I learned the hard way that the appeal of Northern Minnesota's warm night air is deceptive....as soon as the heat turns to pleasant velvety darkness, the mosquitoes make it impossible to sit outside. And the tree frogs, ants, and bugs which populated my dormitory bathroom were a unique twist.
In Phoenix in midsummer, it is entirely appropriate to have ice cream for every meal of the day. Dallas, too. And I finally learned to appreciate iced coffee, something I had never understood before.
Some places were far better than I had imagined them. Most were very different than I had expected. All were familiar with the distant echo of recognition...I know this place because I know Your heart, and you created it.
After 4 summers of journeying coast-to-coast, I could easily say that I was always glad to go "home" to small-town Pacific Northwest (and post-college, the East Bay Area of San Francisco). But I found that home was different, home was bigger, newer, more refreshing. At the same time, I found that my longing for home had grown, too.
"Home" now meant fireflies, magnolia trees, the Atlantic ocean, late-night laundry in college dormitories, a giant sculpture of a badminton shuttlecock on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. Home had never meant those things before, but it does now.
On the most recent trip I took to O'ahu, Anne and I explored the North Shore of the island one day. We wandered a lonely beach on the northeastern tip of the island where the shoreline road ends in a reserve, and spotted gliders being taken up by small planes from Dillingham Airfield. We left the beach and came up to a spot just beside the airfield and sat on concrete blocks drinking a Dragonfruit-flavored soda while watching the small planes tow the flimsy silver gliders up, up, up into the air. Eventually the plane would let the glider free and silently, the glider would surf the currents of coastal wind between the mountain range and the reefed coastline, slipping through the air for as long as it could before landing. When I think of peace, I think of that hour.
Airplane towing the glider out of Dillingham Airfield