Perhaps I have become a minimalist in my old age or some transformation has overtaken me that I have yet to identify. But I have claimed a new home.
I was born and raised on the East Coast. My father was an explorer of sorts, with little concern for comfort or luxury but an insatiable appetite for experience instilled in him from his childhood as a missionary’s son living overseas.
I spent countless hours camping and hiking, from my early childhood through my teens. While other teens were at the mall, I would load my dog in the car, go to the mountains and hike to the highest point and spend hours just looking over the landscape.
It was a gift from my father — an appreciation for the world we live in.
A teacher, Dad didn’t have a lot of money, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him from showing his children everything he could. He made the world our classroom.
We scoured the East Coast, exploring all day. At night, we camped at state parks where it was free or inexpensive.
By the time I was 9 I had learned about Paul Revere’s ride, the Liberty Bell, the Salem Witch Trials, The Mayflower, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, Lincoln, Gettysburg and the Civil War, Jamestown, Kentucky race horses, Monet and Renoir — up close and personal.
But we didn’t just experience highlights.
We caught lobsters in Massachusetts, ogled pandas gifted to the U.S. by China and pet the cavalry horses at Arlington Cemetery.
I have fond memories of running down the roads in Connecticut, scooping up salamanders and putting them in buckets with my little brother, flipping rocks in creeks to see who could find the most crawdaddys and waking up to a trail of hoof prints from curious wild ponies, left in the sand around our sleeping bags on Assateague Island.
My love of forests and mountains was unrivaled — until in my pre-teens, we headed west.
That was my first time away from the East Coast and it affected me deeply. I was shocked at how absolutely beautiful I found the flat, dry, wide expanse of the land.
There was a freedom and an openness I had never experienced before.
In my teens I joined with a church group headed to the Navajo Nation in Arizona and spent two glorious weeks working in the July sun just so I could see and experience the Southwest again.
As an adult, I was ecstatic at the chance to return yet again, not knowing or caring what Clovis had to offer. And I have not been disappointed.
When I see a hawk perched on a fence out in the open, I often pull over and watch until he stretches his wings and rises in search of prey.
The sparseness of the land spotlights the beauty and exposes things, like birds of prey, that I always knew existed on the East Coast but only caught fleeting glimpses of as they sought cover in the trees.
The sunsets and storms, unmarred by mountains and trees, surround you, making you part of them.
I’ll not deny the wind gets to me, and the mud after the rain is not exactly my favorite. But I’ll gladly take 10 windy days for one day of pure sunlight and endless earth.
I hold dear the childhood memories of mountains and forests and meadows and rivers, but I am making new ones from mountains of clouds, the smoothness of dry playas, the glistening gold of rippling grass in the morning sun and a world bathed in the color of the setting sun.
And I’m learning, maybe less is more.
Sharna Johnson writes from Freedom New Mexico. Contact her at: email@example.com