Growing up I thought people fell into two categories: City Mouse and Country Mouse. I loved Green Acres for how it neatly jibed with my view of life. There was Eddie Albert’s character, living out his lifelong dream to be a farmer, and Eva Gabor, longing for a penthouse view and wasting her exotic beauty (and accent) on Arnold the Pig and squeaky Mr. Haney.
I empathized with both characters. What could be better than farm livin’ and all those pigs, ducks, and sheep? Ask my sister, I even loved—I mean truly loved—the smell of manure.
Yet city life seemed grand, too. My best friend in third grade, Andrea Crespin, lived in apartments, and every time I went to her house to play, her complex was full of kids our age.
Later I discovered there were many shades of City and Country Mousedom. Some people were River, others Mountains, some even Golf Community. You could tell lifelong Desert people by the way the skin on their legs hung like drapes and their arms resembled beef jerky sticks. I heard Ocean people talk about the briny smell of the sea as if it were an aphrodisiac. I figured there were also people who swooned about the Tropics, although given that Gilligan and the Skipper were stranded on a desert island with cannibal headshrinkers, I couldn’t fathom that being a paradise.
Pop culture also informed my knowledge of city living: the Beverly Hillbillies, Buffy and Jody with Mr. French in a luxurious New York City apartment, and the Bradys and Partridges in their suburban surrounds.
When Jim and I got married and it came time to put down roots, we agreed we were more Country than City and narrowed our choices to the fertile Rio Grande valley or the wild and wooley Sandia Mountains. We dialed up realtor parents of a mutual friend and off we went house hunting.
One day sitting in a once-famous-but-now-defunct restaurant in the East Mountains of Albuquerque, Jim and I realized that while the mountains were beautiful in their own way, they were also filled with what at the time seemed like an awful lot of, well, survivalists. In the mountains we saw an inordinate number of rifles, barbed wire fences, barricades, and bomb shelters. Valley folk, on the other hand, were more likely to carry walking sticks and herd sheep in large pastures.
And so it was decided, we’d live in the river valley. It’s where we each grew up and where we ultimately decided to stay. I’ve run into a lot of people I knew from high school, and I’ve heard the same thing from most every one of them: You can take the boy (or girl) out of the valley, but you can’t take the valley out of the boy.
Is it as simple as where you grew up and what seeped into your growing bones? I spent all those years fishing for crawdads in ditches and hanging out at the river. I climbed cottonwoods and chased cotton through the month of June. I sometimes think that if you cracked me open, you’d find clods of fertile soil instead of blood. That after generations of being here, I’ve transmuted and become incapable of survival anywhere else.
I keep coming back to this theme: Place, Home. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube for me. What shapes our affinities to geography and why?
Help me figure it out. What calls to you? What particular geographic dimension bites you and doesn’t let go?