The Desert from a Hoosier's Eyes
My legs were flailing in the air, my stomach jumped up to my throat, screams were heard in the distance, and then rapidly went silent as I was submerged. In an instant I bobbed back up to the surface welcomed by an audience of "OOoooo's."
I swam back to the boats, slowly. Taking in the golden canyons around me, the crisp desert water, towering saguaros, bright blue sky and the warm sun on my face as I backstroked. I truly felt like I was in a wonderland.
The relaxing moment following my cliff jump was short, as I reunited with the group of families on the shore. Children were throwing the football, tubing, drinking juice boxes out of floats in the water. The parents were drinking beers, dancing, and playing with the kids.
All I could think about was how lucky these kids are. To grow up somewhere as beautiful as Arizona, getting to take boat rides out into the canyons on the weekends and spend time looking over at Four Peaks Mountain Range as the Sun goes down. I thought on this for a minute before deciding to ask the oldest of the kids a question. She's seven and a rather intelligent child.
I turned to her and said, "Wow, this is all pretty beautiful, huh?"
She turned over at me and said "What is?!"
I replied "All of this, the canyons, the water, the desert, the bright blue sky. Don't you think it's pretty?"
She took a look around as if she had never really noticed before, then said "yeah I guess so" and returned to her sandwich.
Now obviously, she's a child, and children aren't exactly known for being gratuitous for the beauty around them in general, but it did get me thinking. I can't even count how many people I've talked to from Arizona that have never driven up to the Grand Canyon (it's only like 5 hours away!) I've heard several comments from Arizonians acting as if the landscape here is nothing to get excited about.
Now I spent most of my life worked up about getting out of Indiana, where I grew up. It wasn't "beautiful" enough for me. I needed mountains and canyons and blue waters. When I got to Arizona, I was in shock. I was like a a kid at Disney. There is beauty everywhere you look. Snow capped mountains and the Grand Canyon up North, and red canyons and mountains covered in cactus and desert when you head back South.
Here's my question, If I had grown up in Arizona, would I look at the 10 foot Saguaro with as much awe? Would the winding rivers through the canyons make me feel as small as they do had I grown up taking boat rides down them?
It all comes down to this. You cannot have good without bad, you cannot have happiness without sadness, and you can not have satisfaction without dissatisfaction. Sometimes the immense sadness you've felt makes the happiness you feel 10x more rewarding. The feelings of bliss I experience when exploring the desert and mountains are a direct effect from living in Indiana my whole life, never really exploring. In a way, I am grateful I was absent from these beauties for so long, because it makes seeing them that much more meaningful to me.
Who's to say that those who grow up in beautiful places aren't also in love with the landscapes and think they are beautiful? Not I! I just like to think that's what makes the experience special to me as an individual.
This and many other reasons are why, even though I complained about living in Indiana, I am glad to have grown up in the Midwest. It's allowed me to feel so much more appreciative of the beauty around me. It's my home and no matter how many mountains and rivers I'm surrounded by, nothing will replace the feeling of home.
Secondly, I would not have the courage to jump off cliffs like this one had I not had years of practice with my best bubs and sis's, (what my friends call each other back home,) jumping off of 50 ft. cliffs into old stripper pits. Yes, old coal mining pits filled with water were our summer destinations. Murky waters, random hillbillies drinking whisky and telling us fables of lost Crown Royal bottles, and beer cans floating all around us would set the scene (pictured to the right.) It may not have been the desert, but it is the place of some of my favorite memories. And without places like that and the people in my life that always tried to make the best of everyday where we lived, I may not have jumped off this cliff that day.
So yes, I may have left Indiana in the dust for the wild wild West, but it's still a part of who I am, and a huge part of why I'll always swim back slowly.
*Also, side note, people guess where I'm from within minutes of meeting me, just because Midwestern folks are "so dang nice!" Or maybe it's after I've slipped out my 20th "ope!" of the day. No matter how hard I try, "Ope!" will forever be embedded in my vocabulary.
And now for your entertainment, me flailing off this tiny cliff in the desert.....
If you listen closely at the end, you can hear them referring to my stories of jumping into stripper pits in Indiana. I always talk about Indiana to people I meet. I'm not ashamed, nor do I try to hide it, and I hope my fellow Hoosiers never think I do so. I'm proud to be a midwesterner and will always share the positive memories made there.