Just as a place will always be home, no matter how ordinary, even drab, certain places on this earth will be magical. These places, usually from one’s youth, exist in a town or city or country setting that we visited and it was as if the sun cut through on a cloudy day and the world is illuminated in all its splendor. We suddenly know: “So this is beauty! This is why I am alive! It is for this.”
Have you experienced such a time and place? A first glimpse of the seashore? A first stroll down Fifth Avenue? A first visit to the symphony?
My mother-in-law spent her childhood on a small, hard-scrabble farm in the middle of Kansas during the Depression. Winters were cold and the summers, for her, worse: scorching hot and humid. The kind of weather we know so well in the Midwest, a steam bath of heat not relieved by sundown and, of course, back then unmitigated by air-conditioning. The summer she turned 16, she was invited to work on a relatives berry farm near Greeley, Colorado.
Warm, dry mountain air and cool nights that required a blanket. The grass stayed green all summer, not scorched brown and desolate. I’m quite sure that the blood of her Swiss immigrant grandparents awakened — these places of epiphany may very well be our DNA stirring to life. Colorado, just a state away, was now her magical place. One-week summer vacations and, finally, the place she retired.
Epiphany can be a sudden, intuitive insight into the reality of life–that it is glorious.
Two places on this earth will always be magical to me: coastal California and France. As a child in the first and a young woman in the second, I intensely experienced the sublime. In California I rode salty waves on a boogie board, ate soft-serve ice cream on the warm sand, and was happier than I had ever been. Ever. In France, well, I’m hardly the first: the food, the architecture, the art, the people. I’ve been to many stunning places since, but those were the first two times that I fell madly in love with life.
You don’t forget. If you are lucky you return again and again.
When I was 44 and took a summer off to write, I went to Central California.
And now I go to France. I will study the language and write.