I am a biology professor at Emory University and live in Atlanta.
These are words that only reluctantly roll off my tongue – I still expect to wake up and find out this isn’t my life. In my defense, it’s been less than a month – I mean, I haven’t even changed my Facebook info or Twitter tagline (not to suggest that these activities make these facts ‘real’). Now, this isn’t my first turn on the relocation merry-go-round. A decade ago, I moved from the Pacific Northwest to North Carolina. Five and half years later, I moved to the Midwest. Now, I’m in the South. Welcome to the life of an academic. To be honest, when I moved away from the Pacific Northwest I had no idea what I was getting into.
This move feels different; it has the weight of being a critical junction in my life. The intentions of it are far different than any of my previous moves. As an adult, the majority of my decisions have been career-driven. Why else would I have moved to the frozen tundra of the Upper Midwest? Mostly because I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. But this move? This move has the potential to be my last. That’s a complicated thought.
In many ways, this department, this institution, this city and corner of the country, all feel like a natural ‘fit’ for me. I don’t think I can clearly articulate all the factors that go into that statement. It feels good and it feels right. When you know, you know. With the exceptions being of course, the many things that I don’t know. Regardless, I am incredibly lucky to be in this situation when so many other academics are not.
Still, it’s more than a little scary to start again in a new place. When I moved to North Carolina I was 23, on the brink of adulthood, single and beginning a journey with people who would end up being major fixtures in my life. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was 29, no longer single, and infiltrating an established lab and community that when I left it still didn’t feel like I completely belonged. Now I’m 33, single again (and wise enough to know that my life is rich with my other relationships) in a new city with barely a pre-existing connection and entering a whole new realm of my life. I’m excited to get started and anxious to find my way.
These thoughts have been swirling in my mind for the last six months, every since I got the phone call offering me THE job of my dreams. And the only wrinkle is that it seems as though I won’t be returning home. Home, of course, being the Pacific Northwest. Every year it seems I wax nostalgic over this special place – there are so many things about it that resonate with me. So, it’s hard to think that even after a decade away, I won’t be settling there.
I strategically planned my move to be able to have a few weeks on the West Coast, buffering my transition from postdoc to professor. Partly to give myself a break so that when I started, I really started ‘fresh.’ But more so to give me much-needed time with the place and the people that have shaped who I’ve become. To remind myself where I came from and dig around my roots before transplanting myself yet again.
I didn’t think I had a childhood home. We moved out of the house I was an infant in, lived briefly with my aunt and uncle before moving to a house when I started kindergarten, and then built another one when I was in high school, temporarily living with my grandfather during the construction. Now my parents live in yet a different house. All in in Olympia, I grant you and always surrounded by family, but I have never held sentimental value in the structures I grew up in.
So it hit me like a ton of bricks when I spent a few days in our cabin in the southern Cascades. I hadn’t been back there since I moved away in 2004 – my trips home have always seemed too short to warrant a 2-hour drive into the mountains. It was like stepping into a time capsule of my youth. I had no idea of the enormity to which I missed this place and how much my family (including most of my extended family) is enveloped in it. My dad had spent many nights and weekends designing the cabin and the entire family pitched in to build the thing from the ground up. The avocado green stove! The country blue couches! The comforter covered in primary-colored hearts from when I was five! I’m pretty sure the décor hasn’t been touched since we first built it 25 years ago. And while, incredibly out of date, it was immensely reassuring to be back. The floodgates opened and the memories stormed in. My aunt burning her eyebrows cooking bacon on the barbecue. Weekend ski trips with the cousins. Jumping off of the 35-foot Jody’s Bridge during on sweltering 95-degree Labor Day weekend. Driving down the forest service roads with Dad towards our next hike. Games of gin rummy on the porch. It was all waiting for me, in this tiny cabin that I had returned to.
One day I climbed up to Sunrise Peak for a 360-degree view including: Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by majestic mountains to gain some perspective. On another day I hiked through old growth forest into Packwood Lake to reconnect with my motivation to study biology (who knew that a girl who like play in the woods would end up studying the sex lives of yeast!). It was exactly what I was hoping to find and helped me garner the strength to move forward in this next adventure.
Blackberry-Hazelnut Torteice cream so not to waste the yolks. ********** 5 ounces hazelnut flour (alternatively, you can toast and finely grind whole nuts) 10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar, divided 4.5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter 2 tablespoons bourbon 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 8 large egg whites 2 cups wild blackberries ********** Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan. Whisk hazelnut and AP flours, ¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar and salt together in a bowl. In a small saucepan, cook the butter over moderate heat until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool slightly, then stir in the bourbon and vanilla. Using a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form very soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until the whites hold soft peaks. Alternately fold the flour mixture and browned butter into the egg whites in 3 batches. Gently fold in the blackberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cake is golden and just beginning to pull away from the side. Let cool slightly on a rack, then remove the side of the pan and let cool completely. Transfer the cake to a large plate to serve.