Is there such a thing as a home that you’ve never seen before?
I returned from a trip through the western landscape restless and jittery, full of grief over the salty dead-end lakes of the region, where rivers go to die. I tried a small cure by driving out to the sea, that other salt water, and stepped into the greyest of grey days, shrouded in a sea fog. I had forgotten how surreal and nearly claustrophobic the experience could be. I had forgotten because I had not taken photographs.
The ocean appeared a tiny thing, compensating for its small size with purposeful clamor. The world seemed so small, that it made sense that everything would’ve arisen out of the sea – life and the world, Venus and our god figures. Where else could it have come from? I sat on the crumbly cliff and so there was only cliff, fog and ocean in sight. What else could exist?
Yet there was a hint of light at the horizon – a warmer grey that turned into a disembodied, alocational orange glow as I got back into my car. Though the sky broke through - blue, turquoise, orange, pink - I still could see no sun. The sky toward the east was reddish, as if a second sun had set east.
What a terrible place the coast is - to tempt you out with such color and then leave you so cold and damp from sheer love of the thing. And what a terrible thing to forget an experience so acute, which in the moment you think you would never forget. We forget people’s faces this way.
Does anyone imagine falling in love and think of a place, not a person?
I stayed on the road longer than I had planned, hoping to learn that evening what it felt like to miss my home deeply. But I came home and missed the place where I had been. This was not the homesickness I thought I would feel. I could only think of going back, for the peace and soft colors of the place, but also for the freedom from the obligation and practical realities of normal life. The place itself is symbol of escape and matters less than what it stands for.
How foolish, how childish it is to miss a place like a limb when you’ve only seen it once and have no roots there; to imagine perfection because you did not stay long enough to stumble into the hidden pitfalls; when you arrived in fair weather and left in fairer weather. But there is no denying the power of the first sight of that vast desert landscape, the long valleys of the Basin and Range.
I am homesick for those western first sights. Those valleys and those hills and that lake in the midst of all those thistles and mirages. It could be an addictive thing – to go through the world, searching for the high of that first sight. And the only way to have it again is to forget.
To forget would not be such a bad thing after all.
This was featured on LPV in 2012.