Growing up in Pennsylvania, I always imagined myself settling in New England—longing for it, as if I’d narrowly missed being born to the geographic place I belonged. Then I grew up, packed up everything I owned, and moved to the Central Valley of California. Most years, once my gratitude for a bone dry summer has passed, I wonder what I was thinking, why I chose something so clearly not the perfect fit: I want something more colorful, more fully saturated; a steeper descent into the cold quiet of winter. But here, there’s usually no real descent into anything—just a small step down from muted autumn changes into a cool, grey wetness.
Today is the day after Thanksgiving. It’s actually been a pretty good autumn here, as they go, and as I drive home there’s weather moving over the mountains to the west of me, fog and mist obscuring the hills, and the valley seems on fire with fall color by contrast. By the time I pull up to my house, the sky has gone a little grey, and the wind has picked up, so there are leaves falling and blowing everywhere. I always wish there were a tree in my yard that would go bright red when we have this kind of rare, intense fall. I imagine it would make me feel more at home, somehow.
But today, in the grey light, I can see just how brightly yellow my own trees are: pomegranate, weeping cherry, Chinese pistachio. I’m surrounded by gold. I really do love it here, and maybe longing is just an inevitable part of living.
And I think of my Uncle Frank—a tall, handsome man, who always smelled appealingly of after-shave, warm and clean and solid. When I was little, he would hold me on his lap and tell me something I think of every single time the wealth of my own life momentarily erases the longing: “It’s a beautiful world, sweetheart.”