I never realized how much the places of my birth and childhood impacted who I was and my value system until I was well into my college career. At age 20, I boarded a plane for the first time in my life and flew across the Pacific Ocean to paradise. It was my junior year, and I had decided to change my major (for the fourth time) from Pre-Med to Piano Pedagogy. More dramatically, I was giving up a scholarship at SUU and transferring to BYU-Hawaii.
Hawaii is everything you can imagine and more! Beautiful sandy beaches, swimming, snorkeling, warm rain, fragrant flowers, the spirit of Aloha, and the best shaved ice you'll ever taste!
It was also home to flying cockroaches, massive spiders, eternal humidity, and it was very far away from home. I was studying harder than I ever had before, spending at least three hours a day in a windowless practice room, and living alone. I remember distinctly the day I got a letter from my grandmother. Inside the envelope, I found a small Ziploc bag stuffed with a single sprig of sagebrush.
I grew up in Utah. My family moved a lot, but we spent the better part of most summers at my grandparent's house in the West Desert. My dad taught high school and so to help supplement teacher wages we had a family business building range fence for ranchers and farmers, many of who lived in the tiny town of Ibapah, Utah. As a cool college student, I remembered my time in the desert as being hot, dusty, dirty, with too few showers and full of a lot of hard work.
Sitting alone in a little apartment in a tropical island paradise, I opened the Ziploc bag, caught the smell of sagebrush, and a floodgate of beautiful memories opened. Playing in the tractor tire sandbox, riding horses with grandpa, gathering hollyhock seeds with grandma, collecting aluminum cans on the side of the highway to earn spending money, walking to the town's only general store in an old pioneer cabin, getting a treat with grandma (orange dreamsicles or push-up pops, depending on what was in stock) and enjoying them on the hot walk home, eating cold green beans straight out of the can around a campfire, seeing a herd of mustangs in the wild, learning to drive on the fence line at 12, seeing what hard work could accomplish, and feeling the satisfaction of a job well done.
It was then that I realized I might be in paradise, but home for me was in the desert. After that semester, I packed my bags, got on a plane for the second time in my life, and went home to red rocks, sagebrush, and the dust of Southern Utah. I went back to Hawaii for my honeymoon, and we are planning to take our kids there in the next year or two. I've traveled to New York, Philly, the Northwest states, and Mexico. I love to wander! But I'm grateful to come home to the desert.