“Home Is Where the Mountain Is,” column for Feb. 26, 2013

My mountain. I wish you could see it.

Our view looks west across the glittering Las Vegas Valley. The southern tip of the Strip, with its hotels and casinos and flashing billboards, looms large 15 miles away. On the far side of the valley, the Spring Mountains rise up like waking giants, flexing their granite muscles, daring you to try to cross them to California.

In the evenings, after a neon sunset, my husband and I like to sit on the patio watching the sky fill with jets circling the airport.

“Oh, look,” I say, “there comes another planeload of money.”

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we hear coyotes singing in the dry gulch on the golf course. It’s a song that reminds us — despite our tinted-windowed cars and air-conditioned houses and artificially landscaped lives — that we, too, were born to live wild and free. We, too, like to howl at the moon. On occasion. Figuratively speaking.

I’m not sure when I began to think of Las Vegas as home. I never dreamed I’d live here. I never even wanted to visit. But sometimes life takes you places you never dreamed you’d go. And then, there you are with a choice to make: Like it or not.

So here we are. And we like it. A job change for my husband moved us to Vegas in 2006, a year after we were married.

When he proposed, he never mentioned relocating. I’d been a widow for seven years, living in the same house where I’d raised three children on the coast of California, a short walk to the beaches along Monterey Bay.

My desk was wedged in an upstairs bay window looking out on a basketball court that served as a gladiator arena for my kids, their friends and an assortment of dogs and cats. The action seldom stopped. But the distant view was blessedly more serene.

The house sat on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula with salt water on three sides. My window faced east, beyond the basketball court, across the blue bowl of Monterey Bay (we called its curve the Queen’s Necklace) to a small coastal range presided over by the queen: Mount Toro.

In spring, Mount Toro turned Land of Oz green. In summer, she was purest gold. In winter, she could be snowcapped.

I loved her. I’ve always had a thing for mountains. You could say they’re in my blood. I grew up on the border of North and South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, in the shadow of a mountain called Hogback.

I left Hogback when I grew up. But it never really left me. It has followed me all my life, showing up whenever I needed it — in the faces of other mountains, other times, other places, the coast of California, the campgrounds of Yosemite and now, much to my surprise, in the Mojave Desert outside Las Vegas, of all places.

I saw it again today through a brand-new bay window that my husband gave me for my birthday. He didn’t install it. There aren’t enough swear words in his vast vocabulary to cover window installation. He hired it done by a crew of men who did not swear at all.

The new window faces west toward California, through two tall palm trees that frame in fine symmetry the lights of the valley, Red Rock Canyon and a snow-covered Mount Charleston — with Hogback peeking over its shoulder. Maybe nobody else saw it. But I did.

We all see in different ways. My brother was born blind. He has never seen a mountain. But he smells rain, hears thunder, feels a warm Southern breeze on his neck and knows he is home.

We are imprinted, I believe, on a cellular level, by the geography of where we are born. The land where we play as a child leaves its mark like a brand on the soul. It causes us to feel a kinship to mountains or rivers or rocks or concrete that is as real and lasting as anything we will ever feel for flesh and blood.

For me, home is a mountain.

What is it for you?


  1. Carol Melton says

    Once again, you have spoken to my heart.
    Having been born and raised in Southern California and being able to see the San Gabriel Mountain range and later, the San Bernardino Mountain range from our back yard; I see clearly in my mind’s eye what you are writing about. As I sit in Indiana, where I have lived for the last 16 years, without a hope of seeing a mountain anywhere, the question you ask, “For me, home is a mountain”. “What is it for you?” gives me an excuse to re-visit my childhood and re-send an e-mail I sent to you in response to your column “The Great Outdoors – a Rock-solid Companion”. Please bear with me for a few minutes as I remember my childhood :

    “I have been reading your column for some time and this is the first time I have felt compelled to contact you and let you know what a treasure you are. As I was reading “The great outdoors, a rock-solid companion” my childhood once again came back in vivid detail. I was born on the Southern California coast in the city of San Pedro, and I spent many wonderful hours wading in tide pools and looking at the tiny creatures that inhabited them, building sand castles and doing all the things a child finds magical when at the beach. I never lived too far from the coast until much later when I relocated to the Mid-west to be with my daughter and my grandsons. I don’t get home often enough!

    My father was born in Pennsylvania and and grew up in Minnesota. Some of my favorite moments were when Daddy would tell me of his experiences when he and his best friend would go into Canada, canoe in tow, and spend days on the rivers seeing just one lone Indian standing on the river bank observing them. I am certain his love of nature began then.

    My mother was born in Iowa and never lost her “farm girl” values. She lost both of her parents at an early age. When she married and became a mother; Daddy, my sister and I became her focus. She was devoted to making sure her family was loved and cared for.

    Daddy loved the mountains. We could always see the San Bernardino Mountains from our backyard. I could not convince him to take me to the snow; he had enough of that when he lived in Chisholm, Minnesota. We did, however, spend every summer vacation in Big Bear. I was just a wee one when daddy started the tradition; first pitching a tent and later staying in cabins. Those vacations continued through my high school years. My mother, always the trooper, became very adept at tent living with an almost a toddler and my sister who is seven years older than me. I believe my father renewed himself in those mountains. I can still see him, after all these years, drinking his morning coffee and breathing in the mountain air, taking long walks and taking in the scent of pine trees and listening to the breeze rustling through the pines. All the while sharing these sights and sounds with me. Those scents, those moments, I really miss. There is nothing like the smell pine trees and the ocean air to refresh the soul. My father passed away over 30 years ago and I miss him every day, his advise, his gentleness and wisdom.

    Yosemite was also a favorite stopping place for our family. I am certain that your little Randy will be thrilled to climb rocks, dig in the dirt and, check out the life within those tide pools with his dad; and will acquire the same love of the great outdoors as you and his dad share. How can he not?

    My daughter also spent many, many hours in those mountains with her grandparents and has an appreciation for the splendor and grace of nature. She and her family went on a vacation to Yellowstone Park. She phoned me when they arrived and the first words out of her mouth were “I can smell the pine trees, Mom!” I know she has instilled some of the sense of the great outdoors in her children and hopefully, when they have kids, they will do the same.

    I had to let you know the images you paint are touching, speak to the heart and remain for a very long time in my mind’s eye; they are comforting and much appreciated. Oh yes, the puddle on my kitchen floor is me.

    Please keep writing and sharing your life with us.”

    I am almost certain that your Randy has begun his life-long love of the great outdoors.
    You are indeed a treasure and please keep sharing with us.

  2. Sharon, I yearn to see your face in my paper. And on Sunday’s without your column I feel lonely! So thank you for keeping with the work you do so well. It is a wonderful gift you give your readers.
    Before my husband died of cancer I was home wherever WE were. How I miss that feeling!
    When I was young my family moved to about 11 states before I was 11 and no, we were not military. So home to me is pretty much where I am. But of the things in my childhood that draw me are the ocean and trees. There I ‘feel at home’. The first is nowhere near me in the midwest but I trek to one or another as often as I can. Trees are not abundant in west of the Mississippi River but I have been able to locate myself among them in many different homes.
    One surprise to me was the absolute feeling of deja vu when my father and I traveled to North Adams, MA, his ancestral home-my first time. Maybe ancestral memory is possible because looking down on the town from above reminded me so strongly of a similar view of Estes Park, CO I love. This summer I’m driving back to NAdams and one of the reasons is wanting to see that view.

  3. Lora Buhrman says

    Sharon, You are so right. Home is where your heart grew up. I live in Nebraska. It can be described as irrigation pivots shooting ice cold water across tall green fields of corn. Toads croaking in the heat of a summer night. Stars so clear you can almost touch them; and watermelon fresh from the field, that cracks when you cut into it. Then in the winter, snow that crunches when you walk on it. Crisp quiet nights with the coyotes howling. We cuddle up and read with another piece of wood in the Earth Stove. Bake bread and cookies and eat every kind of soup we can dream up. This is our Nebraska, “The Good Life”. We welcome your visit in April.

  4. Mike Haymore says

    I grew up in a mill town in Virginia, the smell of raw cotton was always in the air. The train that backed into the mill at night to unload cotton and pick up finished sheets and bed linen were, and still are, sounds and smells that were forced into my DNA much earlier in my life. I can travel south to the coast and ride through the cotton fields of eastern North Carolina and the smell of raw cotton takes me back to the days of nickel Pepsi’s and a milk chocolate Hersey Bar. That will be home for me.

    Oh yea – your autographed book make big points with my wife!

  5. I grew up in the rolling hills of Central Missouri, in one of those little towns that used to be “saluted” on Hee Haw….population 363! When I was a teenager we moved to the big city but my heart was still in the country. Years passed & as a young married couple, we followed my in-laws to Indiana, where I thought we would only stay a few years. Forty years later, Indiana has become my home and I have grown to love all of this Hoosier Land…flat lands, rolling hillsides & the knobs of Southern Indiana. But when we get in the car & head west on I-70, traveling up and down those Missouri hillsides, I feel like I have returned home. Years have changed my heart. Roots are dug deep in Indiana with my children & grandchildren nearby. With my parents passing, I no longer travel out west as often, and I have learned to be content.

  6. I was born & raised in Seminole County Oklahoma; an only child in the middle of five children. There’s a story there but I’ll save it for later. My dad was a welder, a school bus driver & a farmer. My mom was a housewife & mother who worked harder than any woman ever who “had a job”. The vegetable garden was big enough for our family plus anyone who showed up at dinner or suppertime. Home is the smell of the freshly turned damp dirt as seeds were being planted or we were picking up potatoes. I have lived in Ft. Smith, AR for almost 16 years & used to walk up the steep hairpin curve hill to our neighborhood. In the morning hours around 7 to 8 I would get a whiff of that damp, musky scent & if I closed my eyes I was back at home in the garden. Unfortunately, when I opened my eyes I was walking on a paved road that went straight up before it curved back then upward again to the very top. I’ve come to think of Ft. Smith as my home but as I still have family in the community where I grew up and it’s only two hours away so I have the best of both worlds.

  7. Gloria Smith says

    Sharon, I live at the foot of the Blue Ridge at the N.C./Va. border. I too feel more at home seeing my mountains. I have visited Vegas and was just as amazed at the mountains you can see through the buildings of the strip. It makes you feel more at home in a foreign environment. I feel more relaxed and happy when I see my mountains.

  8. I have visited both Monterey and Las Vegas; the beautiful pictures your words painted let me visit those places again. Thank you. Home to me is the smell of an Indiana corn field on a hot summer night.

  9. nancy sue davis says

    Hi Sharon….I loved this story, as I could identify so well with it…….leaving Pacific Grove at 17……..my home, past 55 years, here in beween Santa Barbara, and San Francisco….in “the country”. PG is still in my soul, my blood. But as you know, we do adjust, ad do find beauty again. My husbands work was here aslo. Retired now 10 years. Live only 20 minutes from another beach, so I get my ocean & sand fix often.
    I breath it in, take it home until my next fix.
    We have gone back to PG several times in all these years to re-visit my special memories, but it is always good to get “back home”. Have taken my grandaughter, showed her all my specil places. ( maybe explains me a bit more to her, when I start with my stories, the past. My husband was born raised here, and I have adjsuted. I know what you are seeing there in LV. We have visited often over the years. The desert does have it’s beauty and mysteries too.

  10. Once again, Sharon, bless you. You are a rock in the many mountains of your loyal readers.


  11. Betsy Whitehead says

    Home for me feels like a historic house like the one in Detroit, MI, where I lived with my grandmother as a child. Old woodwork, staircases, a sense of history in the walls. I have never lived in such a house since but when I’m in one it feels like home.

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