It’s been nearly a decade since my husband and I left Utah. We visit regularly, since our families are both still centered there. I’ve made the drive across the plains of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming in both the dead of winter and the scorching heat of summer. And I’ve flown into Utah many, many times now, staring out the plane window, circling over the bare or snowy mountains–or the city lights at night–before touching down at the Salt Lake International Airport. Of all the landscapes I’ve loved, it is the landscape of the desert and the mountainous West that lives most deeply in me.
In Italy I enjoyed stunning views of the Mediterranean. I remember the view from one eighth-floor apartment where we held church, gazing out over the city in the valley below, over the ancient Greek temples on the hills down by the coast, and then straight out to the sea where the December sun was setting. I remember glimpses of limpid, turquoise water from the window of the Messina train one bright morning. I remember rocky hills covered with orange and lemon trees in full bloom in the middle of winter, and I remember the delicious way those groves smelled from the rooftop of a house one hot summer night. I remember sitting on the empty beach one March afternoon writing letters and watching the waves crash over the rocks near the shore.
In South Dakota I fell in love with the wild sense of space, the radical horizontals of line, the way the sky was an extension of the land, a sea in the air, so huge, so various. I remember watching enormous flocks of migrating birds wheel overhead in the autumn. I remember driving out into the country at night to stargaze in the spring. Far from city lights, the stars were thick and brilliant in a vast, dizzying sky when the night was clear horizon to horizon. And now I live in a dense, deciduous forest, in the middle of rolling hills, and I love the endless rich greens of the trees and the plants, the lakes, the intense autumn colors, the soft, misty winter rain.
I’m constantly amazed at how much place matters. I long for the landscape of home; I miss it with a kind of desperation I can hardly understand. I miss the brilliant blue sky of the Great Basin Kingdom, the crystal-clear dry air, the way it pushes the enormous white clouds up against the mountains. I miss the way the aspens shift and rustle in the breeze. I miss hiking in the middle of the night to watch the sun rise over chains of mountains and valleys, watching eagles plunge off of what seemed to be the very rim of the earth into the clear reddening sky below. Several years after we moved to South Dakota, I watched the movie Contact with my husband, and the final scene of Jody Foster sitting meditatively in the New Mexico desert as the sun set and the stars came out brought me unexpectedly to the brink of tears. Images of home.
I live by the academic calendar, and when the semester ends, when the studying is finally over, when the days get long and hot and spring is in riotous bloom, it always seems time go camping in the mountains. The mountains provide another dimension to the landscape, a place where everything is different, colder, wilder, stark and enormous and both intensely familiar and eternally strange. I miss that other world. I miss going up Big Cottonwood Canyon and hiking Lakes Mary, Martha, and Catherine, driving the Alpine Loop, past Sundance up to Aspen Grove, making a campfire and walking around what my youngest sister used to call the “Stampetheater,” hiking Timp Cave, or Timp itself, as some of my sisters are planning to this summer. I miss trips to the desert and the Green River and Moab and Dead Horse Point and Zion’s. I miss driving up Parley’s Canyon as we sometimes did in our old orange VW van–which required a serious run at a speed quite a bit over the limit just to make it up the steepest parts–and into the Uintahs, to the remote short-summered country of Mirror Lake and Christmas Meadows.
I’m so homesick. Even after all these years–maybe even more after all of these years. Even for all the I love of where I am and have been, even for all the people I’ve loved where I live and have lived, I am so homesick for the beauty, for the particularity of place.