Living in a different state my senses are heightened. I’m observing all that is around me in a way that’s so much more intense than my daily living was in my native state of California. The details of my environment there often blurred as I went about my daily routines. As I settle in Virginia, the intensity of the newness has me bouncing between excited curiosity and internal overload.
My responsibilities are fewer. We’re condominium renters now. Less upkeep, no yard. We don’t have a community of friends and the activities or commitments that come with community. We’re in an urban setting allowing for more walking and less driving which changes my list making and its priorities. No longer do I set out to accomplish as much as possible each day. My list now is measured by how many groceries I can carry home…after I’ve had time to pray, read, write, do household chores, and go on walks. It is easier to take time to see, smell, hear, taste, touch.
Urban noises can contribute to overload. Yet often, the noises add positively to my excitement over being in new surroundings. My neighborhood fire station is kept busy in this dense population, attested to by the number of sirens I hear each day. Out our windows are buses, honking, music, the chatter of pedestrians, traffic roaring during work commute hours, a metro subway station a short walk from us, and on three nearby streets – carpool lanes switching into the District of Columbia in the morning and out of the DC in the afternoon. Planes take off over the Potomac a few short miles from us. The nights are quite, save the occasional siren and insomniac bird.
In our California suburb coyotes ruled the night, trains could be heard in the distance as they ran through town, and sirens made you wonder if there had been another accident at that darn intersection, on the highway just outside of town, which leads to farmlands. During daylight, the shouts of children could be heard from neighborhood schools and parks; and the occasional screech of a teenager’s tires.
I believe my senses are particularly heightened because there are more changes in the weather and seasons here. When it has snowed I’ve reacted with the same glee my children had when they were young and I’d take them for a day at the beach. And now I’m experiencing the wonder of spring. It’s becoming clearer to me why the Bible and so many works of literature used spring as an analogy for redemption, renewed hope and new life.
With the unfolding of spring, I’m passing glorious trees that weren’t in my old neck of the woods: cherry trees, dogwoods, and redbuds. I walk by robins at every turn, yet my old friend the black phoebe doesn’t fly in these parts. Ritually planted bulbs from last fall have appeared all through our town. First there were the daffodils; now tulips and hyacinths. The weatherman reminds his audience that it’s not safe to plant until Mother’s Day, but pansies and violets have started to surround the blooming bulbs. Defiant homeowners and business owners are willing to replant after any unwanted spring freeze dares to try to discourage them.
And the azaleas. Well the azaleas one expects in the humid south also remind me of the azaleas that thrive in dry southern California. They take me to the azalea trees that bloom much earlier in the year on my parents’ patio. Never failing to impress with their vivid display.
The architecture here enchants me. Brick. Brick townhouses, brick sidewalks, brick buildings red, brick buildings painted: yellow, white, grey, blue, even pink. Historic, modern, old, new, worn, restored. Beautiful, sturdy, classy, brick. And charming narrow wood townhouses, all painted a different color than their neighbor. American flags displayed on many. Plaque after plaque commemorating historic landmarks. Lanterns with oil wicks, flower boxes, porches, stoops, iron hand rails and steps, stately doors, opaque foot level windows atop old basements, shutters of varied colors and metal stars marking timber beams on the sides of older buildings. And old noble church buildings enhancing the landscape.
And of course, there are the people who live here. Native Virginians and transients and those who have made this home and the homeless. Many with accents from other countries. Some with distinctively southern accents. Wealthy and poor and in between. Old and young and in between. Friendly and kind. Distant and preoccupied. Responsive to a smile and the dignity of a hello. People worth knowing.
My senses warm to this place as the rivers, marshes, forests, bike paths, walking trails, sidewalks, city and its people, all join to surround me with beauty. A beauty that nurses my homesick heart, and soothes me into believing that I can make this unfamiliar, lovely place my familiar home.