“The West for desire, the East for home.” – Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
I read that last spring in North Carolina. A succinct anomaly in Wolfe’s typically florid prose, the prose of a young person. He seemed to be reminding himself of that equation: West = Desire, East = Home. I appropriated the phrase and taped it to my wall in Paonia; it was my own reminder.
Driving, I have passed towns in Colorado with names like Bountiful, Fruita, Orchard City. The names mean fertility. They mean fruit. I ate a hundred apples in Paonia, each one bright, succulent. I drank juice of local grapes impossibly sweet. Paonia’s flavor was on my tongue. Even Paonia Realty’s sign portrays the valley as green farmland framed beneath by a laurel-like arc of grapes, peaches, apples and pears. As my friend put it, Colorado is a cornucopia.
Wolfe’s phrase, then, seems apt. His great West is like an offered peach which, when bitten into, will overflow, irresistible. We bite, we taste, we devour. Then we chuck the pit.
One warm Saturday afternoon, I awoke from a nap, my head thick with words I had been reading, and walked out into the town’s yellow light as if bewitched. Here was the extended fruit: Paonia golden, Paonia dreamy, its orchards dripping with gifts of apple, its trees alight with gentle October sun. I walked and walked as if hypnotized. Here I was, biting into the fruit.
It follows, from the equation, that the West ≠ Home. My walk seemed to affirm this. How could one make a home of a place so enchanting? Enchanting places belong in dreams and vacations, not homes.
I ended my walk, returned to Elsewhere Studios. I made a cup of tea, talked to my housemates, sat by the woodstove now useful for the autumn evening, and did a little writing. All the rituals of home. How quickly I learned which mug was my favorite; how quickly I grew fond of people near me! Fantasies and desires blooming in the fabled West had not kept me, it seemed, from carving myself a little notch of home.
I left Paonia eastbound with a heavy heart and a sack of local apples. My brief place there was possible only with the warmth that greeted me. I reevaluate the equation, its permutations: the West for home, home for desire, desire for home. And now: the East.