Unaccustomed Earth

You Can Go Your Own Way

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortune may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth. – Nathaniel Hawthorne, taken from the epigraph of Unaccustomed Earth

The other night, watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics at a friend’s house, another guest asked me how long I had been in Denver. “So not even a year,” she replied, which struck me as odd, even though it was factually correct. 

A year isn’t that long, sure. But I’ve been here this whole time, trying to figure out how to live and make friends in a city that until less than a year ago, I had never visited and where I knew no one who owed me anything. All that I had was an idea, stolen from Jhumpa Lahiri, stolen from Nathaniel Hawthorne, of striking my roots into unaccustomed earth. 

I might have known that an idea is not the same as a friend who’s not doing anything, but wants to know what I’m doing or even a crashable house party. There are times when I find myself, if not homesick, then acutely aware of where I would be if I hadn’t left New York. Some of my friends rented a house in Woodstock this weekend; I’m sure I would have had a great time. 

I’ve never regretted my decision to move to Denver. Like Hemingway’s idea of love, there is no choice anymore. I live in Colorado. Still, there are lonely times, when I wish I had one more person I could call or a place where the udon soup always put me in a better mood. While wanting these things, it’s easy to forget that my new life isn’t even a year old. I know I’ll look back on this time as a transition, but meanwhile, I have to live it. And unfortunately, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, there is no remedy for time but more time. 

But there are many moments when moving on an epigraph makes sense. Every time I parallel park successfully (which is not every time I parallel park) and sometimes when I ride my bike along streets no one I used to know has ever walked along, I feel proud and also free. Last weekend, I’m not sure what I would have done in New York. Probably something fun to escape the heat and maybe a party where I would have known all the guests for too long. I couldn’t have predicted a year ago what I ended up doing in Colorado: mountain biking and then going to a house show where the band played Side A of Rumours. But there are still more friends to make, a set of Colorado license plates to be acquired and hiking trails to learn. In short, there is still more time to pass.

To Quote Jhumpa Lahiri, Quoting Nathaniel Hawthrone:

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

This school year, while tutoring, I learned again about the founding of America and our expansion west. It was interesting revisit the basics about the Continental Congress and the Louisiana Purchase as an adult, with some understanding of how real America works. Basically, the “don’t tread on me” approach was there from the beginning. It’s also easy to forget that America was founded by and expanded on by risk takers, people willing and unafraid to make a go of it in a new place.

Until very recently, I wasn’t part of that American tradition. For a while, living in New York was enough. Every summer, I’d discover a new neighborhood, new people, or a new way of living that made my hometown feel unaccustomed.

But of course, there’s the cost of living in New York, the rats, the roommates, the wait for the subway, the men who cut you in line at Best Buy, the endless plan making, and then this: a feature in New York Magazine about the toast revolution going on this city. After growing up in the suburbs of New York, going to college on the Upper West Side, and living in Brooklyn for five years, I can’t get excited about having access to the best toast in the world. Even the only in New York moments, like happening upon a firework show on a friend’s rooftop, don’t move me anymore. I started to feel like I didn’t even know America. And by not settling in a new place, I felt like I was missing out on the quintessential American experience.

So for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my American destiny, I’m leaving New York and settling out West. More about my American odyssey to come.

Jasper Johns, Three Flags