By CHARLENE PAUL
Growing up in Las Vegas, I couldn’t figure out how my folks could make a home in the Desert Southwest. Summers are hot and dry, the ground is hard and parched, and the desert pine trees are scraggly and scruffy. I swore when I grew up I would never live in the desert; I would raise my family where we could enjoy more seasons than green and dead.
When I married the second time, after being a widow for a couple of years, my husband Ken and I moved north with our two little boys. I loved all four seasons, the Blue Spruce trees, our lilac bushes, my garden that grew almost effortlessly in rich brown soil, and the cool summer nights.
After eight years of being away, however, we both felt the pull of the southern desert. I fought it because I knew it meant miserably hot summers and leaving behind the beautiful change of seasons. But I couldn’t deny the yearning to come back home, so we packed up our kids, moved to Moapa Valley, and settled down in our home in the desert. And in the suffocating heat every summer, I grumbled and wondered why we ever moved back.
After sixteen years in southern Nevada, we moved to St. George. At the time, we had gone through some very difficult challenges, some related to the recession and some related to family. I was less than thrilled to pull up stakes and start over and didn’t think I would love living in St. George because its climate is much the same as southern Nevada’s. But as I opened the living room blinds each morning and was greeted by the fiery red rocks of our bluff, I felt at home. Our yard was green and lush with bushes and plants and flowers. St. George became the place where our family gathered for holidays, birthdays, and short visits. I was sure I would never leave.
A couple of years later, Ken and I once again felt the tug of southern Nevada pulling us back within her borders. That meant leaving our red bluff and heading back to Moapa Valley. I will admit that I fought the idea more than just a little. I had grown accustomed to shopping without having to make a day of it. I loved the variety of restaurants and entertainment. I enjoyed walking paths that wound around the river banks and through rocky outposts.
But three years later here we are. Our home sits at the crossroads of a beautiful little development. When I open our blinds in the morning, I see our yard that is a work-in-progress. Our towering red bluff has been replaced by a rocky, dusty mesa. The four beautiful seasons have been replaced once again by green and dead. And at times, the winds howl relentlessly. More than occasionally, when the thermometer threatens to burst, I grumble and wonder why we ever moved back.
Our youngest son Ben was an Army combat medic who served in Afghanistan for nine months. Before he left, he hugged me and said, “Mom, I will do everything I can to make it back, but if I don’t, you have to know I will have died doing what I believed was important.” Another hug and he was gone.
It was difficult knowing he was in that place, but his emails and infrequent calls home soothed my troubled heart and taught me about the meaning of home. His last email before returning stateside was one of gratitude and longing for home. He wrote, “But anyways, I miss you guys like crazy! I’ve never really gotten homesick before, maybe a little bit here and there last year, but this place has me missing home and all the small things more than I would have ever imagined. Again, I can’t wait for carpet and couches! It’s the small things.”
And he is right, it is the small things. When my grumbly attitude changes to one of gratitude, the heat, the dry desert ground, and scraggly desert pine trees don’t seem so bad. There is a reason we are continually pulled back within the borders of southern Nevada. This lovely little valley populated by amazing, loving, industrious, and helpful people reminds me that home is where we miss when we aren’t there. What this valley offers far outweighs what it lacks in ease and amenities. No matter where we’ve roamed and wandered, this place continued to beckon. And when we return, it always welcomes us home.