I was introduced to backpacking in 2006. It seems like ages ago. Since then, love of the mountains has been part of my identity. Michael and I seldom plan a trip to anywhere without mountains. My two summers on staff at Lutheran Valley Retreat in Colorado helped solidify my love. The West is a place I dream of calling home.
But with time I’m discovering how much roots matter to me. No matter how much I love the mountains, every memory of home is a Midwestern memory. I was born and raised in a suburb of St. Louis. I never knew what was special about St. Charles until I left. What I left behind is irreplaceable. St. Charles will always be defined in my mind by relationships. I believe there’s truly no better way to raise kids than with the influence of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins; the people who are in my blood have always played a part in who I am. No other place will ever be quite as much home as St. Charles, because no other place will ever have my family.
Until I expanded my horizons a little, I never realized my friendships in St. Charles were unique. It seemed perfectly normal that most of my friends had been hanging around since elementary school, or kindergarten, or even earlier. I’ve made countless other friends later in life, but there’s no substitute for the friends who’ve liked me ever since I was an awkward little kid. They show me how much I’ve changed, and how much I haven’t.
College brought me to central Missouri, and I fell in love with Columbia more than I ever dreamed I would. I miss Columbia with an aching, but I think it’s good that I’m not there anymore. Columbia will always be college to me; now it wouldn’t be the same. Columbia is football, Sparky’s ice cream and the Magic Tree. It’s the quad in Spring and digging our cars out of ice during Winter finals. It’s roommates and landlords, classes and skipping classes, politics and priorities. It’s rebelling a little and finding the balance and deciding who I am when no one is watching. Central Missouri is almost mythical to me in importance. How could a little college town surrounded by farmland be so perfect? I will probably never see Columbia for what it really is; I will always see it as what it was to me.
Michael and I always thought if we left home, we’d be headed West. We thought wrong. God, and Michael’s job at ArcelorMittal, sent us northeast to Valparaiso, Indiana. I hated Indiana before we ever met. I pictured it cold, bland and boring. Six hours in the wrong direction. The excitement of starting marriage in a new place consoled me. Then I actually came here, and I found more to love about the Midwest.
I love the beaches and dunes of Lake Michigan. Valparaiso charms me with its downtown stretch of Licolnway, which reminds me of Columbia’s Broadway. I love the walk to Ogden Gardens and all the little lakes close by. Rogers Lakewood Park offers a little piece of nature without a long drive. Michael and I are discovering the various bike trails. I’m so proud of our apartment, our first place.
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a Midwest summer. Days by the pool, warm nights filled with fireflies and the chorus of frogs and insects. Huge Fourth of July fireworks displays and your own backyard pyrotechnics. I love country music and barbecue burgers and corn on the cob.
The mountains may call me, but as I’ve realized, I’m still a Midwestern girl.