Once upon a time, I lived in the Catskill Mountains, in a little city (town) called Oneonta.
No matter where I was and no matter what I was doing, all I had to do was look out the window to know just where I was. The terrain around Oneonta and in Oneonta is distinct, and I’ve been looking at the same views for close to 20 years.
Now, I’m not in Oneonta anymore. It should come as no surprise that the place I inhabit doesn’t look like the place I used to inhabit. Upstate New York — at least, the part of it that I lived in — was easily distinguishable by the rolling hills and wide, shallow valleys of the Catskills, which you could see from pretty much anywhere you happen to be. The place I live in now doesn’t seem to be in any way distinguishable from anything else.
Observe the view from my living room couch.
It’s very, very pretty but it doesn’t have any of what I would call distinguishing features. It has trees and plants and sod. You can’t see it in this picture but a small brook gurgles nearby. This place where I live is in the lowlands, so there are no high hills or mountains in view.
When I step outside my front door, I look around past the parking spaces for the cars belonging to the people who also live here. Where there are trees, there is dappled shade. Where there is sun, it is punishingly hot. Not like the dessert heat in which my daughters live, but the kind of steamy, sultry heat that you find in the southeast. There’s a lot of green where I live, and a lot of quiet, too, so that you’d never know you were in a city with almost as large a population as the whole county I left behind in NY.
So, now that I’m settling into my charming little townhouse, a sense of unreality is my constant companion. I have to remind myself several times a day that I am in North Carolina. I have never lived here before and I keep waiting for the place to make its mark on my consciousness. Of course, I have no idea what form that mark would take. Chapel Hill is not a very large city, after all, or only if you compare it to Oneonta. UNC is much bigger than Hartwick, and it has fewer hills (i.e., stairs) than either Hartwick or Ithaca. That’s the biggest difference I have been able to peg, actually. There are no hills here.
I’m sure there are a few but not like the place where I came from.
Ultimately, I have a feeling that Chapel Hill will take firmer shape in my imagination when I can start to people it with some of its inhabitants. Ricky will meet people when he starts working. David will meet people (and I will meet them too) as we start exploring service providers for him. And I will start to meet and engage with people once I start classes next month. (Is it only next month? Eep!)
So, I’ll hang out here in the Twilight Zone for a few weeks between now and then. It’s not really uncomfortable and it won’t last long.
For now, I’m settled in, even if I’m not really, totally here. And I don’t have a particle of a wish to be back where I was.