By Liv Walton
I didn’t miss the West Coast until I had been without it for half a year. The novelty of moving across the continent for graduate school and landing in New York – the geo-cultural opposite of Victoria, my hometown – was enough to propel me through fall and winter in a new city without so much as a #tbt. It wasn’t until spring when friends on the island began to talk about the cherry blossoms swelling on upper Yates, biked to meet each other at the beach after work, that I began to feel a specific sort of longing. It wasn’t quite homesickness because I didn’t want to go home; rather, I wanted to bring everything I loved about the Pacific Northwest to Manhattan, to have the best of all worlds.
It is easy to give yourself up to New York; to let it become not only the center of the universe but the center of your identity. I’m sure that in many ways I am already guilty of this, but there are parts of my life on the island that I cling to with intention – small reminders of the place I am from and the person I was when I lived there. When buckets of lilacs began to appear outside the bodegas in April, my roommate – also from the island – and I pulled forgotten dollar bills from the pockets of our winter coats for enough bunches to make our apartment smell like a midnight walk through Fernwood. On Sundays we splurge on espresso and walk to the Upper West Side farmers market, buy blue heirloom eggs and sharp radish sprouts from vendors we’ve come to have opinions about – we have a preferred loaf of sourdough, a favourite vegetable stand. And when family members visit we plead for them to smuggle us IPAs and homemade candles, to line their suitcases with rose quartz from Fan Tan Alley and beach glass from Dallas Road – we are thrilled to remember that our honey is Canadian each time we use it, even though we’ve had it for three months.
But still, there are aspects of a life on the coast that Manhattan can’t substitute. No matter how tempting the Hudson River looks when I bike the path that runs alongside it, it is not a body of water that can be swum in. (I asked a friend who knows the city better whether this was because it is dirty or because it is dangerous. He knew me well enough to say both, that if he had chosen just one or the other I would have tried it.) There are gardens here that spill over with irises and peonies and rose, but I miss the kind of quiet found in cedar forests, the dull rhythm of a pair hiking boots as they trail over the mossy ground. And nothing here has moved me the way falling asleep in a tent in Tofino does, something that makes me ache to think about.
And so in August, I will go home – though the word has changed now, in my time away. I’ll book a flight back on the exact date I left the year before, and spend two weeks swimming in the potholes, staining my palms with the blackberries that sprawl in thickets along the sidewalks. I’ll remember that the coast is beautiful and consuming and flawed; I’ll bike where I need and breathe in the cool air, some small part of me already missing the damp heat of the subway, the way light ripples through Riverside Park in the late morning.