• Gretel Enck

All the Places Left Behind



I was taking a break from the world today and wondering if I needed to add fish back into my diet when I was transported back to my beloved Honolulu restaurant Brasserie du Vin for their daily special of bitter greens and white beans topped with a piece of grilled walu, a common white fish. The memory of my favorite table by the open front door and the warm November breezes of that heavenly yet brief chapter of my life had the unintended effect of crushing me like a fist. Probably this is brought on by the crushing fist of what has just happened to my beloved New York City, a place I lived for ten formative years, a place that will always be my Movable Feast.

And it made me think of so many places I have lived and loved and left. That's what I do, evidently. I am a wanderer and I cannot deny it. Of course what it really means is that I leave behind people I care about as well. If I were more extroverted, it may not be such a challenge to make new friends. But true friends are not to be made lightly. And each one that is made in a new home is precious--the Holly, the Aurelia.

Another reason for the rumination on home is the funny situation now of living in a swing state and being so aware with the constant bombardment that this is a new normal to adjust to. I've lived in blue states, red states, blue areas of red states, red areas of blue states, and now purple (although I think, despite the strange and offensive highway signs, that we are leaning blue).

In reality, I cannot accurately diagnose my need to wander--a need greater than a wish to vacation in interesting places. I suppose, if I'm honest, it is that I'm not satisfied and I'm chasing some unidentified desire. I'm lucky that I work for an agency that values the wanderer--often the only method of career advancement.

But from time to time I do stop and wonder about the places and people left behind. I regret the lack of proper thanks (Scott and Kay in Honolulu), the people I've lost track of (Ann in NYC), the ones we've lost too soon (Judy). I celebrate from afar the small victories (Chiemi's career, Jenny's Arkansas hillbilly wedding). I wonder how children are progressing (dear Lukas in Nashville). And then occasionally I have the opportunity to reconnect, and it gives me strength to take the next daring leap.

A few favorite memories:

*Walking home after dark to my apartment in Brighton summer after freshman year. I always carried an umbrella for safety. My neighbor called me Emma Peel. It was a long time before I understood the value of that compliment. *Late nights at Joe's on 4th Street drinking margueritas after Mathnet shoots. *Biking in the cold, dark early mornings from my Brooklyn apartment to the Queens train station to ride out to Farmingdale for flying lessons. I'd get a coffee and bagel before hauling the bike up the long stairs to the platform. The flying was wonderful. And Paul, my instructor, would tell me stories of figs and almonds on his family's small island off the coast of Sardinia. *Watching the Halloween parade from the roof of my apartment on Bleecker Street with a sweet, funny man named Greg who loved me well but was a wanderer too. *Riding the rodeo at Bryce Canyon and all the throwing-caution-to-the-wind of that summer that it represented. *Climbing the Mt. Jumbo mountain in Juneau on September 10, 2011--the last beautiful day of autumn, a day so beautiful that I met parents on the trail who took their kids out of school, and a photographer playing hooky from his day job just to take advantage of this stunning day in a rainy climate. I napped on the sunny summit, surrounded by the browning deer cabbage. *Riding the day ferry from Juneau to Pelican with Kristin the botanist and seeing a sea otter alongside a tiny island. *A hundred and a hundred more days of Death Valley camaraderie. The job was ostensibly mundane, but what fun we made--especially Christmas in the campground with carols at Mary's site on Christmas eve. *Eating Brent's homemade ice cream made from Holly's fresh blueberries at Zion. *Climbing Mt. Whitney with Sarah. Despite the difficulty, the accomplishment was sublime. We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy... *Hikes with Brian--Darwin Falls, Zigzag Canyon, the canyon with fossils, Badger Flat, Parker Lake. *Kayaking with my USS Arizona buddies out to the sandbar on the east side of Oahu, one of the more beautiful vistas of the Hawaiian pali on an unusually clear day. A sandbar emerges off the coast at low tide. People boat out for picnics in foot-deep water. Children and dogs play in the warm shallow water far from the reality of day-to-day existence. Magical. *Our Speranta halloween party in Tulcea two years ago, giving children the opportunity to laugh. Such a simple thing, so necessary, so hard-earned. *Indiana as a child (1973?): playing in wheat fields that had been cut, evening with the sun going down, parents ostensibly interested in watching the combines operate--a new device for us New Yorkers. My sister and I piled up the cut wheat stalks and pretended we were condors making nests. *April, 2003, Zion National Park: four condors from the reintroduction program visited Zion Canyon and were feasting on a dead deer between the river and the canyon road; we educated visitors about the program and about these particular birds, using their wing tag numbers to read their stories on the internet. Favorite interpretive ranger moment ever.

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