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Sousa: When where you’ve been starts meaning something

For seven months, I reflected on the mental trip that was arriving in Aspen in September. On pulling the car to a tired Main Street halt, after a week of state signs flipping and changing as if they were dice we'd thrown. On all that happened after that moment.

I'm a writer, and overly reflective by nature, so many of my thoughts regarding leaving the East Coast can be found in this column, where I attempt to try new things and learn from them (often while completely embarrassing myself). Even the first job I found — working manual labor on a pond for Creative Nature, an awesome local landscaping outfit — forced me to appreciate the striking novelty of living in a majestic, foreign place while putting blisters on my hands.

Now, instead of finding myself surfing down a river, delivering skis door-to-door (and getting canned for writing a column about my own customer-service inadequacies) or visiting a luminary local psychic, I'm spinning like dice on the counter again. My seasonal work ended, and I was offered a job on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. A steady paycheck, time to write, a free apartment a mile from the beach? It was all too tempting to pass up, especially for a starving artist grasping at Square Grouper cocktail straws and spending countless trips to City Market trying to identify the cheapest brand of hummus.

So what's the point here, you're already asking? Many people go away for slow season. Some return, and some don't — it's a transient town. Get over it.

But that's not what I'm after. I'm more interested in the idea of what we miss, even about towns we've only lived in for a short time.

On Nantucket, there are old friends, with family only a ferry ride away. Instead of running alongside mountains that drown me in their vast silence and size, I jog with my feet dusting the green Atlantic or, better yet, paddle out for a surf. Life is ocean-tinged here — the smell of salt air, fresh seafood and surf wax immediately awakens old memories, revives old roots. My beloved Red Sox are on at every bar, and the sunset flickers each night over the deep blue, while the last ferry charts its course to the mainland. And there is comfort in the simple claw and tack of a hammer, in sore hands and feet after a long day of drilling or shoveling. I return to my keyboard each night exhausted but inspired by something I can't put a tired finger on.

However, if I'd gone straight back to the hustle and cuss of Boston, this might not have been so easy. The island life, especially in uncrowded May, is full of peace. The sea breeze ushers in a sense of revival.

When I left Aspen on a warm day in April, my snowboard, dented and busted-up after a season of beloved abuse, stared me down sadly. I avoided its eyes: two circular apothecary stickers I'd stared into during many hikes and gondola go-rounds. What else, besides legal pot, do I miss? The answer is complicated. Aspen, almost against my will, got under my skin, burrowing through my snowboarder's soul into deeper philosophical territory. Put simply, the locals implicitly understand something very important: Life is short, and in many ways, it's all about the pursuit of a temporary feeling. Slinging deep powder turns just after dawn, hiking through Aspen trees in autumn while immersed in conversation, closing your eyes to listen to that last live song at the Belly Up — these are transient experiences. You can't just click on a new window and access them. Maybe that's what makes them so sweet.

Of course I miss other things, but my crumpled list is to be expected. You see, what I've tried to convey with this column is also a unique, needed feeling — the sensation of pushing yourself completely out of your element. I felt it on our Thanksgiving hut trip when, from what felt like the top of the world, we raised our wineglasses to toast each other. I felt it when I hiked for backcountry powder, strummed songs on my guitar with new friends, or when we veered through town on a debaucherous Saturday night, under stars switched on like blazing streetlights. I felt it in Carbondale in the fall, when I helped a friend cut firewood, breathing in the piney scent, realizing I was a part of the beginning of something.

And I felt it when I tossed the dice again and hopped a plane in Denver holding only a duffel bag, not knowing if I'd ever return. Songwriter Harvey "Tex" Thomas Young puts it this way in his tune "Deep Dark Wells": "When now is then, and tomorrow's coming, where you've been, starts meaning something."

I guess it's time to figure out what tomorrow means.

Brian Sousa appears every other Sunday in The Aspen Times. Reach him at sousabr@gmail.com.