When I look back on growing up in New England, I remember the numbing cold of my attic bedroom in winter-the drafty facilities of my high school that kept me in my winter coat all day-and the “spring” lacrosse season beginning long before visions of warmth were any kind of reality. Engaged in a perpetual battle with the cold, I dreamed of summer year round.
In retrospect, much of my discomfort could have been avoided had I listened to my mother. Clearly, my refusal to succumb to sweaters and practical footwear was lethal in combination with my teenage capacity for oversleeping- habitually resultant in rushed mornings with no time for hair drying or breakfast. I would arrive at school cold from both the dampness of freshly washed hair and the small snow piles that had managed to collect in my earthy, but impractical, clogs.
Just slightly over five feet tall and small in general, I hated feeling consumed by heavy sweaters. Any curves I wished I had were completely hidden by their bulk. I loved the freedom of tank tops, skirts and summer dresses-bathing suits and board shorts. I didn’t want to blow dry my hair and my feet itched to be free at all times. Proper New England attire simply did not suit me. Uncomfortable and unable to express myself fashionably in the winter, I came alive in the summertime-and fell comatose the rest of the year.
Tired from eighteen raw New England winters, I still believe that I simply did not have the energy required during senior year to become actively engaged in any kind of college search. Instead, I somehow managed to convince my parents that what I really needed was an overseas experience in warm, sunny, Australia.
I remember sitting on the plane in my board shorts, cowboy hat and rhasta inspired flip-flops thinking that there was a good chance that my scheduled four months in the South Pacific would easily turn in to years. I was at least 80 percent sure that I would fall in love with a surfer and live happily ever after in a tree house.
Turns out, Australia did not call home to me, but it did make me realize a few things. 1) I was not adequately able to describe my own country, aside from New England, when questioned by foreigners 2) I actually was not crazy. There are many, many others in the world who dream of exotic places, colorful food and outdoor bathtubs 3) there was a good chance that those ‘other’ people lived west of New England, and 4) I wanted to go to college with them.
After a brief semester at a small university in New Hampshire, I was accepted at the University of Wyoming and prepared myself for an entirely different kind of cold. I actually do not remember how I rationalized Wyoming as a choice. I suppose that after attending school in the White Mountains, the idea of bigger mountains began to intrigue me. I guess I assumed that I would be able to find clogs more resistant to snow.
My first night in Wyoming I camped in Vedauwoo National Park and knew that I had made the right choice. Beautiful in its vastness and simplicity, I was seduced by the endless sky and the honesty of the people and the lives they lived in Big Beautiful Wyoming.
Thankfully employed by the University’s Outdoor Adventure Program, I was able to regularly travel to Utah, Colorado, and all over Wyoming. I realize now that I experienced weekly what for most would be once in a lifetime adventures. My new friends laughed at my continuous amazement over the landscape and wildlife, but my naivety gave them an opportunity to display their outdoor knowledge. I absorbed what they taught me like I did the 360 days of sun that hits southern Wyoming. Many of those friends have proved to be some of the best teachers I have ever had, and certainly some of the most influential.
In Wyoming, where practical footwear is perpetually stylish, I finally began to learn to dress for the weather. With thirty below zero mornings, clogs filled with snow piles were no longer an option, no matter how earthy they looked. By then, however, I had discovered the world of outdoor fashion, and it was an excellent match.
After two years in Wyoming and a summer in Seattle, Washington, I decided to spend a semester on exchange in Northern California, followed by a semester in Bozeman, Montana. I am currently writing from the in between of these semesters, with my summer clothes and flip-flops in the process of being packed away in exchange, once again, for practical footwear and fleece.
While I prepare myself for the long drive from Cali to Montana, before flying back to Massachusetts for the holidays, I cannot help but feel the exhaustion of final exams and another move. It makes me long for the comfort of home. I am inescapably drawn back to New England. I long for it at times and I miss having daily accessibility to the lives of my family and friends. Emails and phone calls cannot replace the security and the familiarity of home. But yet, I find myself comfortable in the outdoor culture of Wyoming, California brings out my creativity (and my tan) and the people of the Pacific Northwest not only stimulate me intellectually, but the normalcy of their progressive culture is inspiring. And while exhausted from traveling, it still thrills me. So how then, do I know in the core of my bones that New England will always be home?
Each of the places I have lived has brought out a different part of me, and simultaneously enhanced that particular characteristic or interest. Some regions have refined my creativity, while others have improved my diet and competence in the outdoors. The combination of these experiences has served to separate me-as an individual person-from the environment in which I was raised. I am able to identify myself as a person aside from what I was conditioned to like, do or choose.
I no longer feel any desire to fit in one category, or forced by a place to do so. I am an artist, a climber, scholar, skier, lover of poetry, winter boots and flip-flips all at the same time. I listen to bluegrass and hip-hop, I feel at home in both the mountains and the ocean, and I’m sure this will offend some of you, but I have very little interest in the Red Sox.
I have come to realize that my success in being human will come from consistently being me wherever I am. I can carry the mountains to the ocean with me anytime and I will always eat sushi and recycle no matter what region I’m in.
I suppose that I also finally feel like I’m beginning to know enough about my own country to accurately answer the questions of any curious foreigners. My travels have certainly perpetuated an interest to explore even further, but in helping me learn about myself, they have also brought me closer to home. I can say with confidence that I no longer feel uncomfortable or cold in New England, because I have finally learned, not only how to dress for the weather, but more importantly, how to consistently be myself wherever I am.
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