No, he said. He hadn't liked Chicago when he arrived to teach there. He was miserable.
He'd rejected Harvard College for his undergraduate study in favor of Dartmouth College because at the New Hampshire campus he would be close to the fishing sites that reminded him of the wilderness West, where he'd been schooled at home by his preacher father.Norman MacLean, retired for some years now from teaching English at the University of Chicago, was talking to me in his living room near the campus. It was 1976, and he had just begun his literary career after, he explained, most of what he'd deeply loved - teaching Wordsworth, the young students, the company of his late wife - were behind him. A special Pulitzer for his autobiographical novel "A River Runs Through It" and other laurels were to come, but these to him were of no great notice.
He'd been miserable as a young teacher in Chicago, he was saying. He missed the direct rawness of nature.
"You have to learn to like where you are," his young wife said to stop his moping. So he set about to do so. And forays to the urban sites of Chicago, discovery of the parks and places where wildlife lived, became part of his teaching. Several times he was voted teacher of the year.
He let on that he enjoyed the company of the young more than he did that of his contemporaries. But after the passing of his wife, when he felt a deep barrenness, a group of colleagues who regularly read from various papers they were writing asked him to read something.
To fill up the hours, he had begun finally to write about his brother, a master fly-fisherman who had gone afoul of the law and was killed. He would fill up the bathtub with hot water in the evenings, he said, and soak and think about what he would write the next morning, until the water turned cold. His reading was well received, and MacLean finished what became a best-seller.
Learning to like where you are became for MacLean a metaphor for facing his nighttime challenges, again and again, until by a creative process he could give form to the meaning that ran through his experience despite disappointments.
Americans always want to be somewhere else, hence our uprootedness. At the same time we dread, because of a job change or a personal loss, moving to someplace where we will be a stranger. Learning to like where we are can be a useful daytime antidote to itinerancy. After all, we have to appreciate the creation that is put under our nose.