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Pining For The Southwest

The problem with falling in love with wide-open spaces is that it ruins you for all other landscapes. That's how I felt when I moved to Moab, Utah, right next to Canyonlands National Park.
Stina Sieg
The problem with falling in love with wide-open spaces is that it ruins you for all other landscapes. That's how I felt when I moved to Moab, Utah, right next to Canyonlands National Park.

It’s New Year’s Eve 2007. I’m 24, and I think I might be the only person in the world. I’m sitting alone in a movie theater in the ice-encrusted mountain town of Aspen, Colo. Waves of worry and loneliness are washing over me. Things aren’t that bad. I’m just young and uncertain and new to town. God, how I want to want something.

Then, as the movie starts, I remember that I do.

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It’s “No Country For Old Men,” and it’s full of unrelenting violence but, more importantly, it’s a buffet of wide-open spaces. Apparently, I’m hankering for the latter. With each glimpse of the West Texas desert, I’m in love. Sure, I flinch as Javier Bardem murders people in the goriest of ways. But then I fall right back into a dreamy trance as I watch him drive through that barren, yellow-and-brown landscape with its big, blue sky. I distinctly remember biting my lower lip in desire — for the desert, of course, not Javier. Soon after, I see the movie again.

It was around that time that I got it, that the Southwest was in me, and it wasn’t going away. Kind of a shock for a Northern California kid, raised on oceans, redwood trees and traffic. When working at newspapers took me to New Mexico at 21 and later to Utah, my eyes were forced open. I realized I didn’t much care to be closed in any more. I wanted the scrappy freedom of the desert. As my dad told me once, having all that space around you means you get to fill it up with your own psyche.

In the years after I left the Southwest, finding journalism jobs where I could, I was struck by how little the rest of the country seems to cares about this dusty part of the world. I become acutely aware that “desert people” are a different breed than most. In Colorado, folks are so incredibly proud of their mountains. In North Carolina, people feel hugged by all that greenery and all those little towns. A Southern coworker of mine once told me that looking at pictures of the desert makes him feel like something’s “bad wrong” out there, like everything’s dead.

After I moved away from New Mexico, I returned once to see friends and all those wide-open spaces. Apparently, this is what I look like when I feel at home.
Stina Sieg
After I moved away from New Mexico, I returned once to see friends and all those wide-open spaces. Apparently, this is what I look like when I feel at home.

I would often fight these assertions about the Southwest, but sometimes I’d just let them be. Selfishly, I didn’t want it filled up with any more Easterners and fellow Californians than it already is. I mean, how many more Red Robins and Barnes & Nobles do we need?

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I used to pine for the Southwest. Now I feel continually lucky to be here. But I feel something else, too. It’s like the crush is over, and now I’m hit with the reality of the relationship. It makes me think of that final scene in “The Graduate,” when Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross escape her wedding to the wrong guy. Over the moon with excitement, they jump onto a passing bus and ride off into the future. But that’s not the end. As they sit there, what they’ve done creeps over them. Their smiles fade, and real life takes hold.

That’s me now, but I’m sitting on this bus alone. I am still thankful for all that has transpired to get me back here. Still, I know the real work is just starting.

Stina Sieg joined KJZZ Phoenix as a Senior Field Correspondent in February 2013.