As a child of the sage-steppe plateau of eastern Washington–someone who has spent a lifetime explaining, “No, actually, it’s the part of Washington that is not green, or alpine, or near the ocean, and it is not covered in pine trees or carpeted with rain forest ferns”–I have spent my adult decades wandering in the desert of my most fragile ambition: to live among mountains and trees such as those that called to me from the windward side of the Cascades in my divided homeland.

Yet ambition was time and again subsumed by love and work. Whether in pursuit of or in exile from a relationship or a job, my choices of place were randomized by necessity. Utah, California, Nevada, and Iowa (twice, and most recently) simply became the next place from which to dream of crossing the physical and psychological boundary that demarcated my youth. Would I ever find my spirit home?

Finally, the question came down to this: How much do I want it? Enough to sacrifice pay and position, house and home, friends and hard-won professional relationships? (And, ironically, my biennial pilgrimage to ASLE. An extended drought for my writerly roots in order to set them down in a fertile place?)

And so opened the road to Flagstaff. At nearly 7,000 feet among the Ponderosa pines in the shadows of the San Francisco peaks, it certainly rises to my alpine ambitions. Trails abound and beauty imbues the landscape in and around this mountain town set among national forests.

But there is a price to pay for such a locale. The almost prideful local expression “poverty with a view” became a well-worn adage during my consideration of Flag, as it’s known here, and when I described to a storage unit manager my family’s quest to squeeze a four-bedroom house on a double lot into a two-bedroom apartment, she laughed and said, “We call that urban camping.”

Now ensues the tricky proposition of choosing a place for the place and then learning if it is what I had imagined it to be. Do the requirements of living here resonate with my true self? New fears are introduced, manifested as megadrought and catastrophic fires, and there is the nagging concern about what will change over the years, progress being what it is.

But being here is the only way to know, and the only way to eradicate the poverty of my aspirations by opening a wealth of possibilities.

About Eric Dieterle

A writer of environmental literature and a public affairs coordinator at Northern Arizona University.
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