“We are our Geography”

Do we bond with the place where we spend our formative years? I’ve always believed that our heart holds a soft spot for the climate we experience as babies and small children. We remember the daily or seasonal gray skies, or the brilliant sun, or the downpours, or the snow, as the background of our life. Later, when we move on from that place, we take those memories with us, and they become our ‘normal’.

My daughter was born in Japan, and lived there until she was two. Twenty-five or so years later, she chose to re-locate to a climate like the one where she started life. The one she bonded with. She’s crazy about it. As she waxes poetic about the beautiful rain, the mysterious fog, I can’t help but think about the months and months when we never saw the sun, in Japan. About the incessant rain. The umbrellas we wore out. Coincidence?

I grew up in New York, and moved to California when I was 26. I’ve now lived in California longer than I did in NY, but it will never, ever seem normal for summer to be brown and winter to be green. That is just so wrong! Trees and bushes sleep during the winter; the whole landscape sleeps. Even in the city that never sleeps! But not, apparently, in California.

And people all over the world know that poppies are red! After church on each Veteran’s Day, all the fathers (who had been in WWII, when I was a kid) received a red poppy for their lapel. (Yes, everyone had lapels back then.) The famous Russian ballet is called “The Red Poppy.” Of course. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I learned they come in other colors.

So some people, like my daughter and me, never shake the ‘normal’ from our childhood. We crave it. We look for it everywhere, and don’t feel right without it.

But some don’t. Some, like my brother, never bond with their original climate at all. Raised in NYC, my brother couldn’t wait to move to a place where he could wear T-shirts all year long! He found it. And he’s happy there.

I believe it was the poet laureate of California from a few years ago, Dennis Schmitz, who said it succinctly: “We are our geography.”

Which type are you? Did you bond with your climate, and go on to settle in a similar place? Or are you still looking for that perfect place that’s unlike where you grew up?

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6 thoughts on ““We are our Geography”

  1. Can’t say I miss the climate in Wisconsin where they have two to three nice weeks / year in the autumn with the rest being too cold, too hot, too rainy, or too humid. California is a god send for me, albeit the summer heat of Sacramento can be a bit much to take. At least it isn’t that stultifying damp heat of the Midwest that drags every bit of energy out of you.

    • Having driven through that part of the country several times in the summer, I agree completely!

  2. Great topic Dierdre. I think our “feel” for the weather and seasons affects us all a good bit.
    I grew up mostly in Houston, Texas, where we had huge thunderstorms with lightning and thunder nearly every day. The sky was always changing, filled often with huge cumulus clouds, ever changing. You could count on a few floods, a tornado or two, and maybe a hurricane most every year. I relished those skies and the adventure of the strong weather. Though I love California in many ways, the skies, and weather in general, are just plain boring to me. That being true, the strong and ever changing weather of my childhood, though I miss it, is not enough to lure me back.

    • I chuckled over that! I also wonder whether I’d ever be able to live in the climate I grew up in (NY). I loved it, then…but I didn’t own a home, didn’t pay for my heating, didn’t have all the obligations I need to drive to. Growing up sure changes how we see the world!

  3. Salut D!

    I heartily agree the geography of our birth imprints our perception of reality. New environments feel that much more foreign due to the direction the wind blows, the seasonal variations, and the colors of fall that burn images into your mind’s eye which linger far longer than twilight.
    What I’ve always been amazed at, however, is how quickly one adjusts to their new environment, no matter how different. Within weeks (or months) the strangest of circumstances can become almost normal, and routines develop to condition us to our new realities.
    In closing, “we are our geography” just as much as we help to shape that geography in turn.
    Thanks for yet another awesome post!

    –Sean

  4. This is a very nice essay. I grew up in SoCal but spent years living in the South and the Midwest. I wouldn’t consider leaving Califonia again because this is the only climate that feels like home. Thank you!

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