When faced with leaving my home in the woods recently, I felt a distinct aversion to driving into the smog laden flatlands. What is it that occurs to those of us who are admittedly transplants to the cedar filled foothills within just a few short years of leaving the city? It nearly feels as if a neurological change has occurred in my brain.
Less than a year after I moved to the Sierra Foothills in Northern California, I had settled in nicely to the sound of owls carrying on nightly conversations and Red Tail Hawks welcoming the new day at 5 a.m. by enthusiastically screeching from a tree right outside my bedroom window. I also found myself complaining along with all the other foothill residents about having to wait in terrible traffic at the stop light with a backup of three or four cars.
Trips back to the Bay Area to visit friends became more infrequent. When I was forced to drive below the tree line my body would tense upon seeing all the concrete as I headed west down the highway. When I actually arrived in the city, I was dismayed by the hundreds of cars, all driving as if they were transporting a woman in labor to the hospital. I suddenly felt as if I was ninety and about to lose my driver’s license because I had exceeded my limit of citations for driving too slow.
I discovered there are no real landmarks in urban areas. Every street corner appears the same to me. Where I live, directions commonly include such phrases as ‘turn left at the old wagon wheel, and right at the big moss covered rock. When you see the tree that was struck by lightning, you’ll be in front of the driveway. Watch out for the steers on the road and don’t forget to close the gate behind you.’
The last time I had to go to the city, I was told to turn right at the Carl’s Jr. Which one? I counted three in the fifteen minutes since I had left the freeway. Strip malls adorned every corner, along with more fast food restaurants than could possibly be supported by any population. I had no worry if I was about to run out of fuel, as there were gas stations enough to fill up all the cars in Adair, Oklahoma several times over.
By the time I arrived at my destination, I was frazzled and exhausted. Had I really lived like this just a few years ago? My brain was about to go on short-circuit. I felt the rising panic of claustrophobia. How had I not noticed the disturbing sameness of the local architecture? Had I really been able to navigate through the Pac-man maze of cars?
My experience is not unique. Over the years I have made it point to ask others if they have had similar experiences. Nearly all report the same feeling of discomfort when leaving the verdant greenness of home. All share my opinion that five cars at the stop light is about three too many. Thanks to the internet, we can all shop from the comfort of home and have the package magically appear on our doorstop.
Do I miss out on some cultural events? Sure. Though we have a larger than usual ratio of artists to artistically challenged and great local theater, there are things that pass us by. The Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, for example, brought me willingly out of my tree house, as did the Arvel Byrd concert. An upcoming class on grant writing fills me with pleasant anticipation.
Otherwise, on warm summer nights you can find me sitting on my deck facing west, watching the bats fly in search of insects and counting the stars as they appear in the sky, feeling both excitement and contentment in equal parts.