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May 26, 2005


Searching for home


Five years ago, as my husband and I prepared to pull up stakes in San Francisco and move to Humboldt County, one of my editors at the San Francisco Examiner, where I worked, said, "Why don't you write about why you're leaving?"

The resulting story ran on the front page of the combined Sunday Examiner/Chronicle, making a bit of a ripple both here and in the city.

I wrote about how, with a 2-year-old and a baby on the way, my husband and I had decided that San Francisco was not to be our place. We were squeezed into a tiny rental apartment, our good jobs could not get us a house anywhere close to the city, and getting around town with little ones was too aggravating and complicated to believe. I also said a few not-very-nice things about the dot-commers who seemed to have taken over my beloved city by the bay. And I talked about Arcata, the progressive college town we had discovered.

The story apparently struck a chord -- the Examiner received a couple hundred e-mails, basically saying either, "I know how she feels!" or "She's full of *&%!"

It's not that my story was special in any way. What made people respond the way they did, I think, was the fact that the idea of "home" is one many of us struggle with.

Which leads me to my reason for writing this column: My family will be moving next month to Minnesota, and, sadly, this is my last week with the Journal.

The decision to move again comes after much soul-searching. We have loved the North Coast: the ocean, the mountains, the redwoods, the pace and intimacy of small-town living. And, of course, the people.

But Minnesota -- and particularly St. Paul, where we'll probably live -- is where I grew up. I still have family there. My kids will be able to see their grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins more than once a year. And my extended family will once again feel like a concrete part of my life -- for better or worse.

Last summer, when we were there visiting, I went to church with my mother. She attends the same church she took us to when we were kids, and I was blown away by the fact that I was in a place with people who have known us, known me, for 35 years. There was a time in my life when I wanted to get as far away from that feeling as possible -- that feeling of being "owned" by a place or a group of people. And I did. But living here, I have envied people who said, "I'm a third-generation Eurekan," or "My kids are going to the same school I did." People who know where they belong.

Do I belong in Minnesota? I think so, though going back won't be easy. I've been a Californian for nearly 20 years. Will I curse the fifth month of snow next winter? Will I have attacks of claustrophobia at the thought of being 1,500 miles from the coast? Probably. Will I continue to look around and wonder if I'm home? If we should go somewhere else?


One thing I will do, without a doubt, is miss all of the people who have made Humboldt County such a warm and welcoming place for us. All of our children's stellar teachers and caretakers. All of my wonderful co-workers at the Journal. All of the friends who shared dinners and play-dates and birthday parties with us, witnesses to the daily passage of our lives. And all of the people who made a special point to write to me, or say hello, when we first arrived here. To all of you: thanks.

Fortunately for the Journal, our exceedingly talented senior staff writer, Hank Sims, will take over as editor. Hank holds a master's degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. He reads about 8 million books, magazines and newspapers a week, and thoroughly grasps issues before most of us can say, "Huh?"

I will be working as a reporter for the daily St. Paul Pioneer Press, the paper I pulled off our front lawn as a kid. Drop me a line.



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