When people ask me where I’m from, I always pause for a moment before answering. Usually, they’re only looking for a word or two. The name of a place to file away with my own, a way of locating me in their broader universe, along with the color of my hair and the fact that I love burritos. But I’m not from just one place, and so, when pressed into a quick response, I usually say New England, where I lived in college and for five years or so thereafter. The answer feels right because my years in the back-woods of Massachusetts were so formative. It’s where I became the me I am today. But it’s not where I’m from. Not really.
I was born in South America, the child of two Peace Corps volunteers who bundled me up and carried me around for eight months as they traveled the jungles and mountaintops of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. There are photos of me in spectacular places to which I’ve never returned since I learned how to walk. I’m sort of from South America.
After heading back to the states, my parents moved to Baltimore, where we lived for a year or so while my dad finished his degree at Hopkins. So I’m sort of from Baltimore.
But then, when I was two, we moved to Pennsylvania, to the city of Harrisburg. That is where I learned to talk and went to school and came of age as a Lego enthusiast. I cut my teeth on the forests and mountains of PA long before I found their analog in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
The other day, my “real” job took me back to Pennsylvania to visit clients. Every time I cross that state line, I feel a certain surge of pride, reviving for a stretch of hours my long ago Pennsylvania citizenship.
In the meantime, I grew up a little. But the trees of Pennsylvania have stayed pretty much the same. The path I drove the other day was lined with forest canyons filled with snow-capped branches.
Driving those roads always feels like coming home, back to my roots, back to who I was back then.
Back to where I’m from.