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I’m on spring break, walking through the scrubby desert on the outskirts of Muscat, Oman. The rolling hills are dotted with new construction sites, homes being built in the shape of small palaces. I look down at the sandy path and see a bug crawl by. “Beetle,” I say. To get up this high I had to walk past a group of stray dogs lying in the shade of a tree down by the road. The brave one got up and sniffed the air as I passed by. “You’re a good dog,” I told him, and he returned to his pack.
The breeze and humidity and craggy rock along with all the different shades of brown and blue sky remind me of spring breaks I used to spend in Rocky Point, Mexico, back in the 90’s, when it was unquestionably safe to bomb down from Phoenix, sleep on the beach or in cheap hotels, and party on. That seems like a lifetime ago, and here I am on a similar landscape in the Middle East, greeting wild dogs and beetles, getting my exercise for the day while my friends teach at The American International School of Muscat.
I’m listening to music and an indie folk/rock song comes on, an excellent song by a musician I met in San Francisco years ago. He was happy there, but not quite happy enough, so he found a good woman and moved back to his home state of Michigan to make new music and babies. He lives in the Upper Peninsula now, and in fact I used to live in the Upper Peninsula when I was a child, and I would not be in Muscat, Oman, right now if my best friend from second grade hadn’t lived in the UP too. The three of us are in our forties now, and unbeknownst to them, I’m standing alone on a brown and rocky hill thinking that they are two of the finest people I’ve ever met in life. I still get to listen to my musician friend’s music anytime I want, and in just a few hours I’ll see my girlfriend again, who is prettier now than she’s ever been, a perfect example of the kind of woman that a beautiful child can grow into.
I must have come to Oman for spring break because I wanted adventure, something wildly new, and I find it ironic that Upper Peninsula Michigan has come full circle for me here on this desert mountain. Unlike my friends, I’m not sure if I could be happy making a big move again—back to the UP or Minnesota—or if I’m about to get addicted to world travel. Apparently I can’t shake Phoenix, because this place is a lot like that place too, except there’s an ocean here.
I turn back down the hill and a bug scurries by in front of me. “Beetle,” I say. The dogs down by the tree ignore me this time. I look around at all the mini-palaces coming up in this neighborhood, mostly white but some pale blue, and wonder if I could live right here in Muscat, just like I used to wonder if I could live in Rocky Point, to be close to the ocean. I know there's one thing missing from my life—open water—and I seem to need it more the older I get. Maybe this means I’m getting a pool when I go home; maybe this means I’m signing up to go teach English by the beach.