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.

13 thoughts on “Homesick

  1. 1

    Very beautiful descriptions. Now you’ve made me homesick for Utah, too — and I was only there for college. That cold crisp mountain morning air, and the smell of a burning snapping fire, some girl you met the night before whose name you can’t seem to remember still snoring away in her sleeping bag (well, at least the first two…). You’re killing me here in Tokyo, you know — killing me.

    Do you find that, for reasons you can’t explain, every once in a while a very vivid scene like this from your past will just pop into your mind? This happens to me all the time. Just today I was sitting in my office working on a memo about a shared marketing resources and — boom — I had this flash of a half-forgotten memory that was so distant but so distinct — I was a missionary back in a little dingy house in Okayama Japan in the summer of 1992 with an investigator who was reaching past some dirty old glass jars on a wheathered wooden shelf for some supplies to go early morning fishing. He invited us to go with him, but it wasn’t p-day, so we hit the streets. But sitting there in my office, I vividly remembered the colors and the sounds and the smells — and then it was gone.

    I have no idea what brought it on — I never do when it happens. But in that sense at least it is nice to know that we always carry around at least a small piece of our past memories within us.

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    Hi, Eve –

    I love your posts. One of my favorite childhood memories in Utah is watching Church softball games sitting on the grass in the early evening with the sprinklers swish-swishing in the background.

    I miss mountain biking in Logan Canyon. I miss my bike (my awesome purple and black Specialized StumpJumper with the old Rock Shox fork). I rode from my house to bike the River Trail around Spring Hollow every morning. Life was good.

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    Eve, this post is amazing to me, and so evocative. It feels as though we lived around the corner from one another. Here are my experiences with some of the places you named:

    Big Cottonwood canyon, and lakes Mary, Martha, and Catherine – My parents used to take us up Big Cottonwood every Saturday morning to cook breakfast on a camp stove. Later, that was a favorite for the scouts from my ward, and I have many happy memories of those hikes.

    Alpine loop – In the fall we always took my grandmother for a drive “around the loop”. I was so accustomed to the sights I didn’t think they were extraordinary at all, but I remember grandma looking out at the yellow aspens and russet oaks, shaking her head, and saying “Breathtaking. Absolutely breathtaking.” Have you ever been to Timpanukee campground, up behind Timp? It is so beautiful. That was the place I chose to ask the woman who would later become my wife The Big Question. For reasons unknown, I thought that was the most romantic place in the world. Somehow, I thought making a fire and cooking hamburgers for dinner would set the stage perfectly, and, based on results, I guess it did. We’ve had a few laughs about it over the years, though.

    Mirror Lake – We used to go there two or three times a year. When I was five or six, dad let me carry his new camera on a strap around my neck. I remember kneeling on a rock and leaning over to look at the incredibly clear, deep water, when, you guessed it, the camera strap slipped off my neck, over my head, and into the water. Dad went in after it, and it still worked. Have you ever hiked up Mt. Baldy, which overlooks Mirror Lake? That was the first time I was ever up above the timberline, and the views were incredible.

    Christmas meadows – I LOVE that place! It was on a family campout there when I was very young that my father taught me how to catch wild trout. I remember being surprised that such clear water could produce something so bright and colorful.

  4. 4

    Eve, thank you for putting into words my feelings. I’ll point to this post whenever anything asks me to explain myself in regards to location, location, location.

    After a decade in Florida, I still referred to Utah as “home.” When we (finally) got the chance to move back, people could only look at me quizzically and ask, “Why?”

    I love it so much here and, being home, feel settled.

  5. 5

    Eve, Wallace Stegner called and wants his thread back. 🙂

    Even though I went to school in Utah and enjoyed the mountains while I was there, I’m a Midwest guy at heart and don’t feel entirely right in my skin if I don’t have some thick forest nearby and a stream, river or pond where I can throw rocks. I need a nice shaded camping area, with fresh water quickly accessible. It’s a feeling I can’t explain. When the leaves turn red, orange and yellow in the fall I just know everything is right in the universe.

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    I’m with you, and Glenn, I guess since I was only in Utah for college. However, my extended family lives in the Kaysville area and I have many memories of driving 12 hours each way for summer and Christmas vacation. Utah can really be enchanting.
    Probably my best memories of the mountains were at BYU, more specifically, the view just outside the testing center 🙁 For some reason, the stress of any test would melt away when I looked up at the mountains. I’m not sure I could have made it through some of those final exam stretches without staring at those mountains, and thanking God that there was something out there much more grand and important than PoliSci 350.
    Arizona is a desert, and while I grew up here and love my support network, I still struggle to find the beauty in the landscape. I also miss the cold crisp mornings in Utah, and most of all, like Nate mentioned, the leaves in the fall.

  7. 7

    I just got back from a quick trip to Utah early this morning. The landscape there was at one familiar and foriegn. I have such an affinity for Mt. Timpanogos, having grown up at its base. I have fond memorories of staring up at it from my window, looking down from its peak and being able to see for miles in every direction. But for me it is no longer home.

    Growing up in that place made an indelible print on my psyche and I can understand some part of the homesickness for it.

    Eve, as always, you’ve delivered a beautifully moving piece of writing.

  8. 8

    Eve–I constantly try to describe “home” as something other than a place. My husband and I are transient and I keep thinking that if home is a feeling, or a memory, or a fond wish that I won’t miss my physical home so much. And yet, no matter how hard I try to explain that home is not a place, I still can’t help but stop on any random TV channel that looks like where I come from. I can’t help but feel “at home” when I drive down main street in the small suburban town where I grew up. I can’t help comparing all of my new “homes” to my first home.

    Maybe home is a place. That feels true and yet I wish it weren’t…

  9. 9

    This made me homesick for Utah and I hardly ever went camping or visited the mountains while I lived there! I went to Utah for school in 1996 and barely escaped last year. The sad thing is, I spent most of my decade there refusing to like the place and hoping to leave sooner rather than later. This post reminds me of the things I did love about it, and I wish I had appreciated as well. Utah Valley feels like home to me now, as much as many of my other homes in my life.

    I think you have also put into words the longing for a sense of place I’ve felt for most of my life. One time on my mission someone was hosing down a sidewalk, and the smell of warm, wet dirt combined with rotting oleander flowers sent me straight back to my earliest years in San Diego. One of the hardest things in my life has been the fact that I’ve been unable to revisit all the places I left behind. My parents moved a lot, both to new places and to new houses. The house I came home to from my mission was not the house I left from, and now they live in a completely different part of the country. I am so jealous of those who have a permanent place that they can return to and feel at home. Maybe I just need to travel and revisit some of my childhood haunts. And my mission–I have such a deep ache to be back in the country itself, it’s almost unexplainable.

  10. 10

    Thanks for all the shared memories and thoughtful observations and kind words.

    Glenn and FoxyJ, there is something so tenacious, almost ferocious, about mission memories. I periodically go through phases of dreaming about my mission several times a week. Usually my subconscious mind works out some way that I’m going back–there I am in the MTC being called on a second mission to Uganda or Argentina–or more frequently, I’m headed back to Italy and I’m ecstatic at the prospect. (These dreams tend to elide the more miserable parts of mission life, which I suppose is just as well.) The weird thing is that I rarely think about my mission during my waking hours. I’ve been home for more than twelve years, and it’s definitely part of my past now. But on some level my mission clearly remains a site of enormous emotional attachment. I felt acutely homesick for Italy when I first got back to the US. The homesickness has faded, but occasionally it still flares up, especially in the middle of the dreary winter here when I know that everything is blooming in Sicily.

    ECS, thanks for reminding me of summer bike rides (although your bike was way cooler than anything I ever owned!) and roller skating, and games with the neighborhood kids in the cul-de-sac–and the delicious sound of sprinklers on summer evenings. I don’t think I’ve heard a sprinkler in five years, but you reminded me of that click– click– click– click–clickclickclickclickclick as the sprinkler moves back to is initial position. And they’re great to run through, and they make rainbows on the grass. The house we grew up in bordered on an irrigation ditch, and we were always down playing in it when it was running.

    Mark, what lovely memories. My connection to Big Cottonwood Canyon and Mary-Martha-Catherine was Brighton Girls’ Camp, where I worked for one absolutely wonderful summer. In an ideal world, I would have an outdoor job in a beautiful place like that every summer of my life.

    Timpanookee campground–isn’t that one of the trailheads to hike Timp? (I think the other one is on the Aspen Grove side, but I’ve never gone that way.) I do remember that whole area as being gorgeous, although I also seem to remember usually getting there while it was barely light….But I think it’s a great spot to ask the Question. I would have said yes to almost anyone there. (And for the record I think cooking over a campfire is at least as romantic as an expensive restaurant, maybe more.)

    My husband and I went camping at Mirror Lake the first summer after we were married. He fished, while I scrambled around on the shoreline looking at things and read. I’ll definitely have to keep the Mt. Baldy hike in mind for a future visit.

    I went to Christmas Meadows for a few days with a friend whose family had a cabin there, late one dry September. The first night we were there, it snowed and the power went out. The next morning everything was enchanted as the snow melted off the autumn leaves.

    Now I’m even more homesick. Good thing we’re going to make it to Utah this summer after all!

    Alison, there is certainly something irreplaceable about the landscape of home.

    Nate S., I was hoping Wallace would be dead enough not to know that I was poaching on his territory. 😉
    The Midwest is beautiful too. I find the sheer amount of water here entrancing–random puddles and ponds and streams and lakes! It seems wildly gratuitous after so many years of desert living.

    Jessawhy, I have to admit that although there are things I love about the desert, I’d find Arizona hard to live in year-round. I like having four seasons, even though I tend to moan about some aspects of winter.

    AmyB, all of my siblings and I grew up in the shadow of Timp too. I particularly remember the alpenglow on the south faces during winter sunsets on clear evenings.

    maralise, the theory that places are in some sense interchangeable certainly underwrites much of modern life. We’re all supposed to be ready to exchange one place for another without too much trauma. I’ve found much to love every place I’ve ever lived, and I’ve fallen in love with every place I’ve ever lived, but Utah is special. No other place will ever have quite the same claim on me. I think at least some aspects of home really can’t be packed up and taken with you. Coming to that conclusion has made me realize that while I like where I live, I ultimately want to settle somewhere in the intermountain West.

  11. 11

    Eve– I keep telling my husband that if he gets to choose where we live now (because of his job) then I get to choose where we retire. He didn’t like that. But, it’s only fair….

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    I’ve been thinking about the extent to which our worship within the church attempts to instill this sense of place in us. Part of what makes the pioneer story so compelling is this sense that they really succeeded in making the desert blossom. But many of the hymns reinforce the notion that Utah, as a geographical location, is special. Think of how many hymns reference the landscape of Utah. We sang #33 in Elder’s Quorum a couple of months ago and I wondered what members on the African plains or downtown Hong Kong would think if they sang it.

  13. 13

    Reading all these comments and especially the story by Eve confirms why I came back to Utah. I lived in Hawaii for 17 years and even though it is a beautiful place, my wife and I flew home every chance we got to “home”. As soon as we saw those beautiful Rocky Mtns, we knew we were home. Hawaii has never felt like home to us. There was always something missing. We both grew up in Utah about two miles from each other but never met until college. As each of our five daughters have graduated from high school, we encouraged them to come to college in Utah and secretly hoped they would find some local LDS returned missionary to fall in love with and marry and stay in Utah. It worked perfectly! I turned down a promotion to move back to Utah, build a house and now can sit in my hot tub at night and have a full view of the Rocky Mtns in all their splendor. I have all five daughters living here and now enjoy being a grandparent. Our friends and neighbors who have never lived anywhere but Utah continually are amazed that we gave up living in a tropical island to come to boring Utah. If they only knew. Best of all, I finally feel the contentment of knowing that I am finally home.

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