Going home to the city

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people walking on pedestrian lane during night time
Photo by Andreas Niendorf

Twenty years ago, I left New York City to move “home” to Minnesota. I put home in quotes because Minnesota was where I went to high school, but at that point I’d lived on the East Coast almost twice that long. Where was home? I wasn’t sure.

I’d moved to New York City after college because I wanted to be a singer-songwriter, and NYC was where all artists went to get their start, wasn’t it? Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing, or how to do it, I just knew I didn’t fit, and maybe had never fit anywhere. So I moved to New York because that was the place where people went to not fit together.

I loved it immediately. I loved the rumbling subways. I loved being swallowed in a sea of people at rush hour. I loved the endless dirt of the city, the scratchy art on park benches and sidewalks, and the plants that worked so hard to grow up through the cement. And I loved how sometimes at midday the sun broke through the smog and bustle and every surface shone like it was being blessed.

But, during my three years in NYC, I never played a single open mic. I never booked a single show. I was too intimidated. I wrote a few songs in my cramped, slanting studio apartment, but mostly I went to see other people play music at my neighborhood’s surprisingly excellent dive bar. Sometimes I worked up the courage to talk to those other musicians, but more often I sat in silence, simultaneously awed and very depressed, wondering how or if I would ever find the bravery to get onstage myself.

Last week, over my birthday, we went to NYC on our first-ever family vacation. During a bout of cabin fever, I’d looked up airline tickets, and to my amazement discovered they were ridiculously cheap provided we only stayed Wednesday to Saturday. It seemed like a sign.

Twenty years ago, I left NYC because I knew I couldn’t afford to be an artist there (financially or emotionally.) It was the right choice, but it was also heartbreaking. Through a series of surprising arrivals that still dazzle me when I contemplate them, I ended up here, on a ranch in western Dakota. Weaving my country kids and rancher husband through the rush hour foot traffic of Grand Central Station, trying to keep track of which subway goes uptown and which goes downtown, even just crossing the lanes of Fifth Avenue to get to the Lego store was stressful, but awesome. It kind of felt like I’d never left. It kind of felt like I was home.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I could never live full-time in New York City again. The endless hustle and roar are not the speed I’m interested in running at anymore, but boy, it was great to be back for a visit and to show my family a place I love so much. It was also great to feel both the girl I was (and still sometimes am) inside the woman I have become. I am so proud of both of them.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure how the same person can be obsessed with sheep and grass and wind and growing all their own food AND feel so connected to a place where none of those things are possible, but we humans contain multitudes. We don’t have to understand why the heart loves what it loves, we just have to open our arms wide enough to embrace it all.

**Thank you to everyone who sent a message or postcard about seeds + catalogs for Perkins Co Almanac!  I’ll be sharing them for the first episode this week! The next two episodes’ themes are “In Like a Lion” and “Signs of Spring.” I’d love to hear your stories about wind, weather, and how you know spring has arrived where you live. You can email me at elizabluesings@gmail.com, or better yet, send me a letter or postcard: PO Box 133 Bison, SD 57620. Thank you!

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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.

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