“Migration simply happens to some people. Maybe a restless, spring-loaded gene keeps us on the move, or an alignment of perceptual coincidences pushes us from place to place.” —Craig Childs, House of Rain
Over the course of a year and a half, my partner, Jonny, and I lived at four separate addresses within Salt Lake City. Each move seemed to coincide with the shoulder seasons, nature’s times of transition.
This pattern of moving from place to place is not new for us, and not necessarily a reflection of Salt Lake City. It seems we both have been adrift for the entirety of our twenties, and are able to accept this fate. Yet, we still harbor a deep drive to find home, the place to which one’s identity, friends, and family are attached. We all, in some way or another, seek to find a sense of belonging in the places we live, or with the people we are surrounded by. Is this understanding of home inextricably linked to a formal address? Where does one go to find their home, and how do you know when you are there?
Fall: Liberty Park
We had just driven across the Great Basin, shuttling all our belongings from Reno to Salt Lake City. The previous night, torrential rain outside of Winnemucca forced us to sleep sitting upright in the front seats of the Outback crammed with every one of our worldly possessions.
As we arrived in Salt Lake City the next day, anything with four walls and a roof would have been welcome. Still, we were cautiously optimistic when pulling up to a house that we’d only seen from pictures on Craigslist, thinking that this would be our home. The house had been advertised as an urban homestead, complete with cheap rent in exchange for work on the two-acre garden and a communal lifestyle sharing meals, chores, and a single bathroom with six other residents. Our new home and our new city were both bursting with unknown potential.
Eagerly, we made friends with the eclectic community in the house. One room was devoted to Airbnbs, which kept a steady stream of new acquaintances coming into the house, everyone from poets to ski bums, from Columbians to Kazaks. We planted turnips and installed hoop houses; we were quite literally putting down our roots.
Then winter came. It seemed that the whole city had gone into hibernation so we turned inward as well and stayed at home. New and interesting visitors became abrasive intruders. Hoop houses kept our garden alive through the winter cold but there was no growth. Like our plants, we felt ourselves in an unhappy stasis.
It became a nearly biweekly conversation as to whether we should move. We had almost made it through the winter, there were starts in the greenhouse and our two troubling housemates, one freeloader and the other a psychopath, had both packed their bags and moved out with only mild confrontation. But a home needs peace. Not knowing if a stranger would greet us at the front door, not feeling free to say no to the latest kitchen fermentation project, we knew this was not our home, we were just its residents.
Spring: Sugar House
We found a cute little cottage on Craigslist, met the housemates and, shortly after, moved in. The perks of our new digs: Our housemates were easy-going and there were only two of them. The downside: Our room was in the basement, less than 20 feet across, and the ceilings were so low that the two of us, each about six feet tall, couldn’t stand upright without hitting our heads.
Our new house was tucked between other cottages, situated on a perfectly square plot, resting in an immaculate neighborhood with green, groomed lawns and block parties full of children on tricycles. We had left the chaos of the bohemian oasis and landed squarely in normalcy, a more domestic situation than either of us had experienced since leaving home at 17.
The summer went by in a smooth, hot haze. We both worked office jobs in an air-conditioned building and most nights we came home, tended to our garden, made dinner and went to bed. Our lives matched our surroundings; the disorder of the fall and winter, the clutter of people and emotions, had transformed into a fully functioning system, a quiet house on a quiet street, where we could live our quiet, ordered lives. Stability, however, was not in our future. We were still renters and, at the end of our lease, when the landlord decided to rent the room to a friend we were once again sent in search of a home.
Fall: The Avenues
By a mere stroke of Facebook luck, Carmen happened to see an old college friend’s post looking for a couple to move into the master bedroom of her house. The sheer serendipity and convenience compelled us. It was a bright, yellow house in the Avenues with an airy kitchen. We moved in quickly and once we were there it became the favorite of our numerous Salt Lake dwellings.
When we first moved in, the house was unfurnished. The four of us would gather in the kitchen, sitting on counters and floors, laughing at our housemate’s cat as she learned to live with an energetic puppy who loved to skid across the hardwood floors. Several D.I. trips slowly filled the house with couches, pillows, and a sturdy wooden dining table that became a place of comfort, somewhere to play cards and eat hot soups on snowy evenings. The dynamic among the housemates was easy and we affectionately christened the place “Snugglehaus,” settling into its warmth and comfort for the wintry season.
Despite Snugglehaus’s pleasantries, once winter started shifting towards spring, life changes were afoot. One housemate was pregnant, one had seasonal work coming to an end, and as for us, well, we were easily convinced that change was necessary.
This time, though, another move within the city felt like too much. Neither of us had been able to develop a strong sense of community in Salt Lake over the nearly two years we’d been there—admittedly, perhaps related to our pattern of moving—and we decided to cast off again, even further this time, in hopes of finding home somewhere beyond Utah.
Spring: Millcreek/Cottonwood Heights
As a quirk of work obligations, we opted to stay in Salt Lake for a whole month after leaving the Avenues. Friends in Millcreek graciously offered to host us and store our boxes until we left for good and we began our tradition of shedding every extraneous possession and cramming the rest into the overstuffed Outback.
The month in Millcreek felt like a peek into all the things a home ought to be: coffee and NPR in the morning before work, house dinners and parties worth losing sleep for. Still, we were keenly aware that this was not our house. Though in that short time we had already decorated the space with our houseplants and geodes, all those little familiar trappings, we knew that they, like our friends, would stay in Salt Lake after we left.
When the house went quiet at night, we would find ourselves contemplating our future and reflecting on all the things we were leaving behind. Perhaps the transformation had been imperceptibly slow, or perhaps our serial rambling had numbed us to it, but only once we were leaving it did we realize that Salt Lake felt like home.
Jonny Jew is currently living out of the very same Outback in San Juan County. Carmen Taylor is in Santa Fe, New Mexico pulling weeds and harvesting beets on Green Tractor Farm.