Feeling wistful.

I had a lot of trouble sleeping when I was in college. Often, I would give up trying around four in the morning, throw on some clothes, and stalk across the dark, dew-damp campus to my car. My first rule for these early-morning journeys was that I had to drive West, away from the rising sun; my second rule was that I had to turn back when the sun touched my car. So West I would go on Route 44, through the thick mist over the Hudson River, past the sleeping shops of New Paltz, their blinds drawn tight against the creeping dawn, and up into the Shawangunks. When Route 55 split off, I split with it. As I wound higher and higher, past snowmelt waterfalls and indifferent deer, the pumpkin-orange rays of the rising sun would catch the rocks above and below me, but as long as they did not touch the car, I kept driving. When at last the sun cleared the horizon and soaked me through, I turned around, and drove back through the same mountains, woods and towns, so different in their waking.

West has always been the direction of possibility to me. It’s the most American part of my psyche, the ingrained dream of the frontier. West is the way to things that could be. Living in Los Angeles, the westernmost part of my country, has elicited in me a battle of the imagination. I fight to keep this town new and strange, and myself a stranger in it. It’s not comfortable to live somewhere as a stranger, but I fear the alternative; when the possible becomes pedestrian, dreams sicken and die.

Oddly, as autumn begins and this town grows gray and cool in the halfhearted, resentful way it does, I become acutely homesick for the East. I miss the turning leaves, the bite of cold air, and the smells of woodsmoke and apple cider. I miss the rain, thunder and lightning, the lacework of frost on the window, the shining tips of the morning grass. I miss all of that, but even more I miss the idea I had of the West. I miss the mystery of it, and the way I could drive until dawn and never get there.

What do you miss?

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13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    miss kendra said,

    the smell of burning wood, and crisp salt air.

    fresh apple cider.

    breaking out the sweaters.

    the feeling that you’re just getting to the good parts.

  2. 2

    Red Diabla said,

    I don’t think it’s feasable to lose one’s sense of adventure and discovery in a large city. There’s just so much going on alllll the time. I’ll find myself in slumps, but then I’ll come across something that I didn’t think existed here, and it makes me excited to know that I really don’t know everything that’s going on…that there’s an underground, an alternative, a different bunch of people doing different things that I had no idea that they existed.

    The West is a dream and a state of mind more than anything else. It’s there for everyone who’s open to it.

  3. 3

    MonkeyGurrl said,

    I’m with Red; I went to Felt Club yesterday, and it was an excuse to journey (once again) eastward. There is a whole city of which we are unaware, completely different from the “westside”. It just reaffirms the belief that LA is a city of many discoveries just waiting for you to stumble upon them.

    That having been said, I did the same thing through grad school – I would walk to my little office on campus at 2 am, catching the 2′ rats scurrying along the sidewalks. Them things were big as dogs in DC. One thing I *don’t* miss – knowing that my nips soon would be so chafed and sore from the cold and the woolen garments I was forced to wear when the temps drop below 60.

  4. 4

    Well, I’m smelling the woodsmoke, breaking out the sweaters and scarves, and watching the leaves turn. I’m also wiping the condensation off the windshield in the morning and cursing the bugs that want to come in out of the cold. (Not to mention the spiders who always seem to want to spread their webs onto everything!) I’m also sleeping with 2 blankets that never seem to cover my shoulders and feet at the same time.

    But I’m also enjoying the feeling of the warm (not hot) sun beating on my shoulder and the smell of fall. I love the pumpkins and fresh apple pie.

    Fall is my favorite season, even with the cold feet just beginning and never wearing the right amount of clothing- too cold in the mornings but too hot for layers in the afternoon.

    Hmmmm.

  5. 5

    nora said,

    I miss not having bills to pay.

  6. 6

    Hyphen said,

    I miss my innocence.

  7. 7

    Andree said,

    I miss buying school supplies. Gawd that was fun.

  8. 8

    Emily said,

    I miss trees. There are not enough trees in LA. And the ones that are here are so small and alone. In LA, you never see trees growing so thick that they are leaning against each other and straining to get above one another for sunlight. I miss trees so dense that you can’t see, smell or hear anything but trees.

  9. 9

    dp said,

    i miss being hopeful. when i was a kid, whenever i’d get a frustrated or depressed about life, i’d always fall back on cliches and tell myself that things would be better when i was an adult. i knew that the hard work was for something special one day, and that everything would pay off in the end and all would be ok after i finished whatever i was doing that sucked so badly at the time. well, now i’m here in adulthood and things aren’t better, and nothing is special. i still haven’t figured out what to do with that or how to be hopeful again.

  10. 10

    Mom said,

    When I’m not there, I always miss Scotland. Not just the cliched things like heather and mountains, but the sound of new dipthongs and missing consonants, the extra-dry wit and the wonderful children’s books in the shops. I also miss the North Sea. For me, the frontier imaginary has always been north, rather than west.

    Beautiful post, by the way.

    Note to dp – your decade is one of the hardest, I think. Maybe because all those expectations haven’t been met and many of us feel let down, then. But somehow it gets better later. My friends and I – all approaching 60 (ye gods that looks terrible in print)- wouldn’t revisit your age (well, it would be nice to have the body) because we’re all much happier now. Not to say that you have to wait that long! It’s a gradual thing, with moments of great joy along the way.

  11. 11

    SilliGirl said,

    It’s not just the east, it’s the northeast. I just got back from New England and it was glorious. There is just nothing like the smell of the air there. I miss it when it’s fall and I don’t manage a trip up there.

    But you know what? Thanks to global warming, it should still be a typical fall around Thanskgiving, so maybe that gives you something to look forward to?

  12. 12

    Writer2 said,

    Beautifully written. There is something American mythic about the West, whether as the land of hopes and ambitions (Horace Greeley) or as the land of lemmings leaping into the sea (Nathaniel West, “Day of the Locust”).

    Obviously, we prefer the comforts, pretentions, intellect and wooded sensibility of the East. My own experience of the West is not as far out towards the Pacific edge as yours. I much prefer the open spaces of prairie and high desert, anywhere from the Dakotas to Northern Arizona. But it is an odyssey, whether by prairie schooner or rental car, and for me the East is where you come (back) to settle and grow.

  13. 13

    Kristin said,

    This week, the air in Seattle turned cold. We mostly have evergreens, but there are spots where colour has entered the top tier of leaves on small deciduous trees. I walked outside at 7:15pm and it was pitch black and raining. I inhaled and the air was filled with the smell of fire places. I paused there in the rain, wrapped the scarf I had just plucked from a box around me tighter, and proceeded to my car.

    Seattle isn’t New England. The fall and winter are milder, but they exist. I have never been in Seattle in October and it struck me just how many years its been since I’ve been somewhere autumn exists. It doesn’t really in the UK. Not like this.

    I miss the UK but I missed this too. I missed feeling the passage of time. Strangely, I keep characterizing Scotland and Los Angeles as having the following in common: Two seasons. Raining and Not Raining. Raining just happens to be cooler and last a lot longer in Scotland.


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