Funny how I come to these little crossroads now and again. It's like the Universe is double-checking me, making sure I'm still committed to a particular decision (before opening the path and speeding me on my way, I hope!).
As recently as a year ago, I was pretty sure I would go back to New Hampshire someday. I live in urban Florida by necessity and by accident, not by choice. Although I grew up spending lots of time at the beach, my appreciation for Florida had never expanded to include the inland landscape, and certainly not the sprawling strip malls and gated communities that line the roads where I live now.
Last year at this time, I was still teetering on the knife edge of staying or going, if not in the immediate future, then someday. It kept me from fully committing to putting down roots here. And one of its greatest manifestations was a recurring restlessness every September, when I knew the leaves were starting to change up north. I'd be thinking about the scent of wood smoke and apples, the crunch of frosty grass underfoot, the chill of a misty morning sparked with the blaze of red and yellow leaves, and the slightly musty warmth of wool sweaters.
About a year ago, I realized that beyond those sensory pleasures, what I really missed about New Hampshire was the small town feeling of belonging. When I lived there, I liked crossing the common and going into a downtown shop where I probably knew the name of the person behind the counter, and they probably knew my name, too. I liked knowing the history of the place, with that history spanning a couple hundred years. I liked seeing the landscape manifest itself in its own unique geographic and geological way. Compared with what I knew of Florida, land of chain stores, template landscaping, and Stepford-esque "town centers," the layers of community and place that developed over time in New Hampshire were indescribably rich.
I started realizing this when I started spending more time in what will soon (touch wood!) be my new home town, a place with a complex history and a small town character that expresses itself in a genuine Main Street downtown. I felt at home there immediately, and I realized it wasn't just the change of seasons that seemed to draw me northward. Slowly my perspective shifted to reveal that the sense of being integrated into a particular place could be found here as well, if I would just step outside the urban area and open my eyes.
My shift in perspective was enhanced by meeting a man who introduced me to the beautiful and original Central Florida landscape that expresses itself in scrub and hammock, spring and swamp, lake and river. Real Florida is still full of wide vistas, clear waters, secret places, and the wild plants and animals who belong here, who are only too willing to show me, by example, how to thrive.
Given my newfound contentment, it's not surprising that the Universe saw fit to test me: Two days ago I received the current issue of Yankee magazine, featuring an article called "Fall Comes to the Lake Country" -- complete with stunning photographs of some of my favorite New Hampshire places in all their fall glory, places that are just 15 minutes from where I used to live.
Although they are as beautiful as I remember, I wasn't tempted in the least. Not even a smidgeon of the old restlessness returned in response to those familiar landscapes. They are still lovely to look at and sweet to remember, but that's all.
If that was a test of my resolve to stay, I passed. And I won't be renewing my Yankee subscription again, either. There's really no need.