Folding the Map

Last year, my husband, Richard, and I moved from California to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Everyone asks us how we came to choose the remote little town we now call home.

"Wait," you're thinking. "Why the heck did you leave California?" Lots of reasons, but mostly because we'd been there a long time and it was costing way too much money. Our daughters had headed off to college and we wanted to turn a page. Or fold a map.

We were asking a lot of our new home. We wanted land, space to stretch out, to grow vegetables, plant fruit tress and give Richard a reason to fire up his chainsaw now and again. We wanted hills, if not mountains. (I wanted a river, too.) And we wanted something that California was short on: seasons. Of course, that's part of what makes California a hard place to leave. All that glorious sunshine, months and months and months of it. We were clear sky junkies.

No surprise, then, that we talked a lot about weather. We'd visited a good portion of the U.S. but because we are both trained as scientists, we tried to forget that it was 100 degrees the entire week of July we were in Massachusetts and put our trust in data. We studied climate maps: rainfall maps, percent cloudy days maps, misery index maps, trying to figure out where we could land softly and happily.

(I'm going to stop right now and say that there is so much beauty in this country, we'd have been hard-pressed to make a bad decision. We just needed some way to decide!)

We read enough about the weather to qualify for an advanced degree in meteorology. Finally, we took one of the maps (maybe it displayed days spent shoveling) and began folding it. We folded down the West Coast (been there, done that, and too rainy in the north). We made a crease along I-40 and excluded the Far North (too cold), and another along I-80 to the south (too hot). The swath in the middle lacked mountains, so we folded back everything to the west of the Appalachians. We weren't going to get our acres in the mid-Atlantic, either, at least not that we could afford. 

What we were left with was less of a map than a lump of origami executed by an excitable monkey. But at least we knew our state: Virginia. Not in the broad level plain running to the sea, but in the valley cupped between the Allegheny and Blue Mountains.


We are lucky to have portable jobs and the flexibility to choose where we live. If you could up sticks and live anywhere (in the U.S. or elsewhere), where would it be? Or are you already there?