My wife and I just moved from Iowa to Pennsylvania. I was born in far northern New York, but we moved to Iowa when I was only a few months old. Although I’ve spent time in Europe and West Africa, I have never lived anywhere but Iowa for more than five months. I’m finding that what I miss the most is, obviously, seeing my close friends nearly every day, being able to visit my parents any time, and running in to people on campus who I know whenever I walk around.
I know that many of these things will change with time – I will know more people here, I’ll make new friendships, but my parents will still be far away. For me, that is really difficult.
I grew up in a small university city, and knew every road, location, pattern, sound, smell, image, time and context in intimate detail. I had walked or biked nearly everywhere in Iowa City, and that was comfortable. The sense of place and my sense of myself were deeply integrated. One of the most valuable things for me about going to school at Iowa was that in my spare time, I would get in my car and explore Johnson, Cedar, Washington, Henry, Lee, Linn and Iowa counties in extreme detail. I could drive out of town in any direction, for 200 miles, take any turn, and come back in to town from any direction I chose. I would often depart town in the morning on a Sunday and come back late at night, my pump primed to write new poetry for class the next day. Now I’m in a new small university city, but all those deep interconnections are missing. It will take a long time (possibly the rest of my life) to rebuild them here.
I like this place, I like the few people I already know here. I like the mountains, but I miss the gently rolling plains and the comfort of the way all the streets and roads are perfectly aligned to the cardinal directions. I miss knowing interesting historical details about the place I live, like why “Blackhawk Mini Park” is called that. I miss having a beer at Bo James or The Mill with friends. I miss driving past the airport where I learned to fly and remembering cleaning airplanes there with good friends who left town in the other direction a few years back.
I miss knowing that if someone had the last name Yoder or Swartzendruber or Stutsman, they were from the area.
I miss Kevin Olish, who died last year, suddenly, and was a familiar face and interesting guy at the Co-Op, always talkative, always with something interesting to say. Once, I was wearing a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs t-shirt my dad had given me. Kevin said, “I used to live in Santa Cruz, nice town! Expensive town. I like it here better.”
I’m sure I will get to know all sorts of characters and characteristics here in Happy Valley. Over time, I’ll come to appreciate the unique aspects of life here. One of the things I like most so far is how genuinely nice and helpful most of the people I have talked to here are. That seems like a platitude, but it’s not. It’s deeply not. People here are, as far as I can tell, mostly just nice all the way to the core.