I remember being all sorts of traumatized when I first moved here. I was used to being surrounded by mountains, forests, rivers, lush, green vegetation, and people. Then I moved here. A place where there are no mountains or forests to be found, where you can drive a hundred miles in some places without seeing any evidence of the existence of other human beings. I remember sitting in a Perkins with my dad, sniveling, after I’d first arrived, “We’re living in a wasteland [Hoo hoo hoo]…..”
After a few years, I was in the middle of undergrad and I started taking drives in the surrounding country. (I said I was practicing for my eventual escape.) My mini-road trips became a habit. I’d grab a huge fountain pop, my favorite mix CD of the moment, jump in my car, roll down the windows, turn up the music, and lose myself, my worries, and my cares in the sights and sounds, the openness, the solitude and serenity of the back roads.
Eventually, after I’d spend time away in more populous places, I’d find myself craving this place. The long, flat, empty, eminently drivable stretches of two-lane highways and gravel roads. The relief I’d feel when I’d return from elsewhere was palpable at times.
A few years ago I saved up and bought myself a starter DSLR kit for Christmas. I started taking it on my drives, stopping every few miles to capture images of this place. A place I realized, I’d finally come to love and think of as Home. It is a unique place, full of traces of pioneer history, evidence of the relentless Midwestern work ethic, the hardy, sparse inhabitants’ love of God and Country, and their need for and abundance of open space and independence.
I was waiting for a surgery one day and I started talking photography with an equipment rep. I told them that I mostly like to take pictures of this place. That I just drive around and try to capture images that embody all of those things I listed above. Oh, you must not be from around here, they said. Because most of the people that are from this place don’t necessarily see it the way I have come to. I was road-tripping with Nurse NICU in the last few days constantly, excitedly pointing out interesting and scenic views. Look!, I’d say jabbing out my window at some vista, or farm, or scrum of spotted ponies, isn’t it beautiful?? Until she laughed and said, Yeah, I grew up here, I just sort of take it for granted.
I am taking it less for granted every minute as my departure date for the Big City rapidly approaches. After the road-trips this week, my heart aches at the thought of leaving this place, and an encroaching sense of claustrophobia sets in at the thought of leaving the freedom of my beloved backroads for the confines of urban life.
I am sure I will eventually find beauty to appreciate there as well. Getting a (sort of) fancy camera, and constantly looking for photo-worthy images, tends to do that for you. In the meantime, I’ll be burning up the miles and disc space, searching for scenes to take with me. So that I can remember this place, where I found beauty and freedom, and lost my heart. This place that became my Home.