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Last night the dog ate the pizza, and I didn’t get upset. I had a free afternoon, so I cleaned out the fridge and concocted a roasted green chili pizza. Cooked in a 500-degree oven, it came out nicely browned, a little charred on the edges. I boiled the rest of last week’s farmers market sweet corn, and left all of it on the stove to cool while I ran out to fill the car with gas.
I returned about 15 minutes later to find the pizza gone and the floor licked clean. Also missing were four half-ears of corn; around the house, a few corn trails. Our golden retriever smiled at me and wagged his tail, as if hoping for more.
I’m telling you this not because I’m shocked at the dog’s gluttony and nerve. It’s my reaction that surprises me. In another era, in life preceding the middle distance when my world was crowded with kids and marital and ex-marital relations and a demanding job, I might have sworn to kill the dog, and though I wouldn’t have actually gone that far, I would have been mad at him and cursed him for days. But in the moment of the missing pizza, I mostly just marveled at the dog, at his pleasure, at his apparent lack of heartburn, at his innocence despite being caught in the act.
I associate this leveling off of emotional volatility with aging, knowing it doesn’t pay to sweat the small stuff. And I associate it with something unexpected that has recently happened, a subtle mind shift that has altered my point of view.
I’ve noticed that after 20 years in Colorado Springs since bringing my family here in 1991, finally I think of this place as home. It might seem obvious but it is not. I have been one of those transplanted southerners, displaced and nostalgic for the sight of a wet deciduous forest and the smell of a roadside barbecue stand. I spent years yearning southward and eastward, to the traditions and people and tastes and sounds of my childhood and early adult years. Hell, I spent years searching the real estate ads on the internet for my ideal country home in central Tennessee or Kentucky, a place where, in my fantasy, I’d return when I’d finally served out my sentence here, on the harsh, high plains in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.
It didn’t come in a flash of recognition or as an act of will. I didn’t put my foot down and resolve to be a Coloradan; I wasn’t blinded one day and knocked to my knees by the exquisite beauty of the red rock formations and bluebird skies. It was more, as Flannery O’Connor called it, a “habit of being,” her definition of faith. I knew that I had stopped searching and was no longer looking back toward home, that I was already there. One day last week I woke up tired of summer, ready to let the garden go to seed, and felt that twinge of excitement that comes with wishing for cold weather. I smelled it in the air, or imagined I did. Wood smoke, fallen leaves, roasted chilies. I recognized this as a particularly Colorado longing, and here I was feeling it as deeply in my bones as the memory of a hymn.
When I first felt the settling down effect taking place, last winter, I feared I had grown lazy or afraid or complacent, that I had lost the urge to roam that I equated with a healthy imagination. But here I was, contented throughout the long, dusty winter, snug as a bug in a rug in the house I was settling into. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I wasn’t homesick, I was at home.
The other night I read in bed until nearly midnight. Just after I reached over to switch off the lamp, a sudden boom in the house jolted me awake. For a second I could hear the windows rattling, as if a heavy door on the first floor had been slammed shut. I glanced at the sleeping dog and knew that this was no human intruder or he would surely be growling and racing for the door.
The next day, a radio announcer said there had been an earthquake centered near Trinidad just before midnight and shocks could be felt across the state. I felt small. I felt a strange sense of humility for my precarious placement on earth, and gratitude for the rock of Colorado beneath my wayward feet.