I remember the whispers of excitement on graduation day last June. "I can finally get out of the Valley!" exclaimed the newly independent high school graduates. They talked of joining the military and going overseas; of being accepted into prestigious universities on the East Coast; of moving out of their parents' houses and into cities that offered so much more to see and do. Freedom, they said. Opportunity, adventure, culture. Things they couldn't find here.
I, however, received sighs and scoffs of distaste when I spoke of my plans to go to the University of Nevada, Reno. My peers asked me breathlessly, "But don't you just want to get out of this place?"
"This place" happens to be my home, I thought. I had the chance to go elsewhere for college - Chicago, Oregon, California. But Northern Nevada is unlike any other place I've ever been, and I've found there is opportunity everywhere if you know how to look for it.
I moved to Carson Valley about five years ago and am every day still amazed by the beauty and calmness it possesses. Coming to Nevada was a breath of fresh Tahoe air after living in the gritty Bay area for 13 years. All throughout high school I would sit in class and stare at the omnipresent mountains that loom over the Valley, strong and solid. I remember the first night I moved here and looking out the window with my jaw dropped, in awe at the Valley laid out in front of me, promising fulfillment and inspiration. Living here is like being on a permanent vacation, what with the ever changing weather, photogenic seasons, and the constant stream of community events. Our little Valley is still small enough for us to claim and keep as our own, but its expansion is providing us with the things we need so we don't have to leave to search for more.
I'm a born adventurer, an aspiring world traveler. The urge to explore often controls my thoughts, and not a day goes by that I don't dream of traveling, of seeing the world. I've been to Europe and it was one of the most amazing experiences I've had thus far in my whole 18 years of existence. I've seen many beautiful places - big, glittering cities and wide, endless oceans and ancient, crumbling historical ruins. But I've found that no matter where I go, I'm always wondering about Nevada. I've flown over the Swiss Alps wondering about the Sierra Nevada range; I've sat at the rocky coast of the Pacific Ocean daydreaming about summer days at Lake Tahoe. This is a place that stays with people long after they leave.
I don't know what it is about the Valley that attracts people so strongly. My mother says there's something almost spiritual about it. Maybe it appeals to people because there are few things more astounding than seeing the stars on a clear summer night, or the way it smells so clean and calm after a heavy autumn storm. I have so many memories here. I know this place like the back of my hand but am still discovering new things about it. I feel safe here. The Valley has its flaws, but it offers so much in return to make up for that.
This is my country, like Monet had Giverny and Steinbeck had the Salinas Valley. This is my home, and even when I'm overwhelmed with wanderlust I always feel a calm contentment when I'm driving along Foothill Road and taking in the puzzle-piece Valley stretched out beside me. I can't wait to travel and see as much as I can of the world, to have so many different experiences and meet all kinds of interesting people. But I know that wherever I go, wherever I end up, I'll always come back.
n Ashley Noel Hennefer is a University of Nevada, Reno, student and a Douglas High School graduate.