I am walking uphill, and I am cold. The snow flakes’ sharp edges sting as the wind whips them against my face. My shoulders hunch forward as I lower my head against the misery.
Even my dog decides this wind is too much, and he walks behind me. My great, big dog has decided this walk to the lakeshore is my idea, and he isn’t walking beside me on this one.
I look at the lake, consider walking down to the water’s edge, where we always go, me and the dog. The dog takes a step into the sand, and I pull him back. He looks up at me in agreement. There is an intensity to this day, and we both feel it. Cold sharpens everything.
Recently, my husband asked me if I wanted to move back to Virginia, where I grew up. He told me if I wanted to move, now was the time. I have thought about moving back for 20 years.
I dream of a big lawn filled with the warm soft blooms of camellias in the summer and a big magnolia tree, whose flowers I will put in a glass bowl on the dining room table.
I will decorate my front door with garlands of fresh pine in the winter and the walkways with azaleas in the spring. The winters will remind me of spring in Chicago, Michigan and South Bend, the places I have lived since I left.
I think of the trees, forests, the waterways and the ocean, dunes, hills and spaces of Earth that welcome me to Virginia and North Carolina, the embrace of childhood memories, the familiar scents and even the way the ground feels when I walk on it, the spring of pine straw underfoot, the way the heat returns to me because I always forget just how hot the sun can be by 8 in the morning or the blast of a grocery store parking lot at noon.
The Southern places of my childhood comfort me, bring me home, in a way this Midwestern landscape never does, no matter how hard I try.
But it’s just a place now, my people no longer there, my friendships absorbed into the past. And always there, the nagging feeling that although I loved being outside, inside, there was a reason I left.
When I think about moving back, I must also think about leaving a place I have lived for 20 years. My friends, our community, the gardens I’ve planted, the homes we’ve created. The Midwesterner I’ve become.
I know how to drive in the snow. I plant grown tomato plants in my garden in June. I smile when the man at the nursery tells me, “Yeah, we got azaleas here,” as he points at spindly blooms. We are happy here. My children are happy here.
Here in my middle age, I do not feel like starting over, forcing everyone else to start over. I’m not sure I have the energy for all that. And I’m not sure this is the time of my life for adventure. I think that time has passed, that perhaps something else is more important now.
Do you remember the song “Puff the Magic Dragon,” recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary in 1963? I do. Here’s one line in that song: “Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee.”
I’ve always loved that line. I don’t know why. But something deep inside me responded to it, even before I understood that metaphorically, me, the mother, I’m the dragon. The one the little boy has to leave or slay in order to get to his princess and his own happily-ever-after.
I hate the cold. Still, I go out in it, walk uphill and take my dog with me. The wind blows, the snow stings, and I decide that, for now, I will grow here, in the Midwest where I am planted, grounded, surrounded by the Earth and sky, where I can live by the sea, just as I would do, no matter where we decided to live.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.