Pennsyvania Winter

Snow, barns and two continents

I was sitting in the back of my parents car on my way home from college for some holiday or another. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and have seen more fields and farmhouses in all kinds of weather than I could count. One of the more memorable times involved watching grey-green clouds slowly swirl and rotate in the sky above my school bus, listening to the roar of thunder and the bus’ engine speeding up to get out of the storm. For some reason on that day, the scene outside the window struck me as particularly beautiful. It struck me as a moment worth digging my camera out of the bottom of my backpack filled with mostly unopened chemistry text books.  It struck me as a scene worth, nearly 10 years later, to still have on my hard drive. Maybe at the time, it was all the changes going on; the moving away, my utter disinterest in what I thought for years I wanted to study that prompted me to capture a moment. Maybe I sensed this scene is very different to where I would end up. Maybe it was just the aesthetic factors: the brilliant white snow, the red barn glowing in the pastel winter light or an accidental yet pleasing composition.

Looking back on it now, I want to remember just a pretty scene which is so different to where I am not and not the 19 year old that probably wasn’t thinking any farther ahead then the end of whatever holiday it was that prompted my homecoming. The realist in me knows one can’t “sense” anything; I am not a fortune teller. I’m notoriously bad at using common sense to anticipate day-to-day things (like remembering to bring snacks because I will inevitably get hungry and cranky).  However, I can say with certainty why I still have the photo, why I still love it and it is because it is a very different place to where I am nearly 10 years later regardless of whether I sensed this at the time or not beyond just a vague sense that I was growing up and moving away. I had no idea how far away I would move or how soon.  Just a few years later, I moved to London from Pittsburgh.

In London, it hardly ever snows. There aren’t raging thunderstorms every summer. (Although the year before I moved here, there was a tornado or something like it.) A quiet moment is difficult to come by. There are barns but they are more likely to be conversions to house some hobby or other than cows or horses. After nearly 8 years, I still have a strong American accent (now speckled with Scottish words and a southern English intonation) and it invites all sorts of questions. There are some that enrage me like the judgemental, “Don’t you miss your family?” to which I am always tempted to answer with something very, very sarcastic, like explaining I’m a sociopath or lying and saying in gory detail how horrible my childhood was (it wasn’t). Another question is “I don’t understand why you chose to move here.” I hear this a lot and it’s usually said in jest with a very British dose of self-depreciation. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally lose whole days to this question being the only thing bouncing around my head. I do miss my family and my two best friends who no one on any other continent will ever replace. I miss having 4 distinct seasons and not just varying levels of dampness.

This question is, however, misleading. The question should be “Why did you stay here?”. It’s easy to make an almost spur-of-the moment decision as a 22 year old who almost 8 years later is going to be 29 and is still terrible at thinking ahead to the most rational outcome. (I like to think of things as fun or not fun and work out the practicalities later (eg my undying and vocal desire for a Pyraneese sheep dog which is regularly vetoed by the Scot.) It’s not the initial decision that is usually all that hard. It’s not that one act of packing up some boxes and a suitcase that is the interesting decision. It’s the day-in-day out realities and no Thanksgiving and a proverbial desert in relation to candy with both chocolate and peanut butter. It’s the regular questions of “don’t you miss your family?” and “How long have you been here?” and “Where are you from?” that are reminders that I chose to stay here. While I work, pay taxes, speak English and generally go about my business in a way that is no different from those born here, I will always be different and I will, as long as I live in this country, be making the decision to stay.

And why do I stay? More reasons than perhaps a blog post or a conversation consisting of small talk could entertain. It’s the choices I make about what is important to me and what I would like to get out of life while also trusting that those that matter will stay in touch despite five or more hours between us and 3,000 or more miles. Staying is undoubtedly the more interesting side and it has nothing to do with where Disney World is or fantastic shopping or value for money in restaurants. I don’t have a holiday-ing view of the States; I just know it’s home and it’s where I’m from. I also don’t have an idealistic view of the UK or Europe (the impending Referendum debate will strip anyone of that very quickly if it didn’t happen before). There are similar problems the world over: quality of life and ridiculous politics. It’s about choosing what it is that matters to me and accommodating as much of it as possible. I’m very, very lucky to have had the chance to move, I’ve worked very hard to build up a life here and now I choose each day to stay here.

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