Repetition is soothing. Leaving can become habit. Breaking down your life, building it back up again, rearranging all of your pieces and parts. It’s an exclamation point in the middle of a sentence, starting over in the middle of everything. There is poetry in putting punctuation where it doesn’t belong.
There has never been anyone who could make me stay. I keep searching, but in my heart there is only blue sky. There is only the rust-colored belly of a robin hopping through the greyest winter, dragging spring at the edge of its wings.
The West makes my heart sing a song I have always longed to hear. My thirst for love is bottomless; my soul is a tide turning on itself. There will never be a person strong enough to hold me. But the continuity of countless generations is buried into this soil; the back bowls of these mountains are deep enough to carry me.
I am cautious and the land is constant. It changes too slowly for my senses to notice. My eyes find relief in following the same silhouettes of my youth. The same folding of the yellow hills along the Bay, the same spiked leaves of the Joshua tree, the same Horsetail Fall spilling over El Capitan.
I’ve already forgotten half of what I own, dog-eared boxes of belongings scattered across the globe. It has become so easy to let people go.
I went to a different school every year until the age of 11. When I was 16, we moved again. My parents were prepared to wait, but I had already become addicted to the possibility of place, to the idea that moving can change everything. I am unruffled by solitude, undaunted at being a stranger. I tried to feel homesick, to miss the people I left behind, but I felt only a gentle tug, only a vague dissatisfaction at the thought of standing still.
I will never belong to anyone the way I belong to place.
It was Jerusalem that pushed me home. The cracks and canyons of the Negev reminded me of the place I had left. My eyes rested into a familiar squint and all at once, I missed the hard blue horizon, the red dust, the buzzing, crooning, chirping of a hundred creatures I had grown accustomed to.
I moved back. I always thought it would be a person to call me back, someone whose eyes would catch mine and I would freeze in my tracks. But it was the song of the red-winged blackbird that brought me home.
I reach back and try to find someone to miss, someone to long for, someone to regret. But my heart is a blank slate. No one has left a permanent mark. There is only the wind, the mountains, the changing seasons, the way the land yields to the sun and the moon. I will never belong to anyone the way I belong to place. There will never be anything I love more than this.
“It is here that the romance of my life began,” wrote Teddy Roosevelt, referring to the rugged, windswept Dakota plains, to the land where he recovered his heart and shaped it again.
I have gotten over the color green, mourned the trickling Colorado River cutting its way limply across this hard and heavy land. I have found something I am afraid to lose.
It is the land and the land alone that knows how to love me back. The sight of the mountains softens my heart. The wind shaking the leaves puts my insecurities to rest. The sound of the dirt underfoot is enough.
I watch this land like a lover, memorizing all of its subtle changes, the way it shifts and sighs. The love of my life is this crumbling dirt, this wide open sky. I’ve lived by the rote repetition of packing and unpacking, of waiting for someone else to decide.
And now all I want is to stay, to watch every cloud, every blade of grass, to memorize the song this land sings, to examine the love story between people and place.
Because it is the land to which I surrender, it is the land that shapes the way I move, it is the land that calls me back.