The Allegory of the Lemon Tree

Last week a friend high 5’d me and congratulated me on finally writing a non-portfolio related post. I shrugged and shared that it’s been hard for me to get into a groove writing over the last year. My friend leaned forward and said, “It’s because you’re lying to us”. 

I knew exactly what he meant before he continued. “You moved back to Utah almost a year ago and have never written about it”. And he was correct.

Well, sort of correct.

You see, I have written about it. In fact, I’ve had multiple versions of a post on our decision to leave California and move back to Utah last summer saved in my “drafts” folder for over a year. But, I have never been able to push “publish”. So many reasons for not hitting that button.

But he was right, part of my reluctance to write much over the last year has been an inability to find the words or the tone or the time to write about what was a very emotional and defining decision for me and my family.

I don’t know if this will clear the writers block I’ve been feeling for the last year or so, but I hope it makes a dent, and I hope our experiences in Californian can inform those who’ve wrestled with a similar decision.

But the time feels right now, and the anniversary of how this little journey started is this weekend so here goes:

Memorial day weekend 2010, AMR and I embarked on a secret reconnaissance mission to scope homes for a potential move of the Roberts  to California’s bay area. Very few people knew we’d been considering the move, and even fewer knew how real our intention was.

After 5 years of near weekly commuting to the Bay Area from Salt Lake City, we were interested to see if relocating could deliver the dual promise of tech nirvana and that elusive work/life balance that didn’t seem to come easily for the hardened road warrior I’d become. 

That memorial day weekend we found a little compound in the hills of the east bay that seemed to suit our family’s needs. As we walked the property, AMR and I took especial note of a flourishing lemon tree growing near the back door of the home. Its branches hung low with ripe fruit. Lemon trees had never been an option for us to grow in SLC. They were something totally new to us. Something we could only experience in the moderate climates of California. 

The lemon tree became a symbol for us in this new life we were planning to build in those Californian hills.

Shortly after our visit we bought that little compound, packed up everything we owned, and headed West. After settling in for a few weeks, we decided we wanted a lemon tree of our own. We went to the local  nursery and picked out the perfect plant. We purchased soil and a pot just like the one we’d seen the previous owners use for theirs. When we returned home, we planted that tree and placed it in the same sunny spot the prior tree had flourished so freely.

As the months passed, we watered and cared for our new tree. When the temperatures dropped, we covered it. When weeds cropped up, we pulled them. Occasionally we would see lemon blossoms and tiny lemon bulbs bloom;  yet, regardless of how much attention we showered it with, no lemons grew.

As the months wore on, the lemon tree began to fade further. We tried replanting it. We tried new soils and new fertilizers, but its condition seemed to worsen. The lemon blossoms stopped blooming. The promising bulbs shrank. And one by one the green leaves began to brown and fall from the branches. 

We would often ask ourselves how the same plant, in the same pot in the same sunny spot could not flourish like the one that had been there prior? It was baffling and maddening. 

But it was also a metaphor for what was happening to us in the bay area.

A year into our new life we were feeling much like our little lemon tree. Tho we’d known many who were flourishing in the same state, in the same city, in the same industry, we weren’t. We felt our metaphorical leaves browning and beginning to fall off. For some reason, we were not taking root in the same soil that had been so rich for so many others.

So after two years in the bay area we decided to pack up that moving truck once again and return to Salt Lake City. Turns out our root structure is much better suited to the rocky soil of Utah’s high deserts. Guess we’re more Quaking Aspen than we are Lemon tree.

Maybe it was the 2 hours of commuting I was having to do every day. Or the soul crushing traffic we had to fight to get anywhere. Or the… I’ll stop there and say the Bay Area isn’t for everybody. It certainly wasn’t for us (go read this piece if you want some advice from an insider on how to think about a move the San Francisco).

Needless to say, my move back to SLC still has me coming to the Bay Area often enough that a year later some people haven’t realized I’ve moved at all. But I have, and we’re happy to be home. Again.