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Sarah Gassen: It's time for me to say farewell to Tucson
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Tucson Opinion

Sarah Gassen: It's time for me to say farewell to Tucson

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

It’s time.

That’s my refrain these days.

It’s time for me to move back to St. Louis, where I grew up and where my parents, brother and his family still live. My last day as the Star’s Opinion editor will be Oct. 15.

I’m ready for a new chapter, in a familiar book.

I moved to Tucson in 1990 to attend the University of Arizona. I stayed, built a full life. I’ve spent 25 years — very nearly half of my time on the planet — working at the Arizona Daily Star, serving the community that so kindly welcomed me.

Something shifted when I visited to St. Louis in April, the first time in two years. For the past 30 years I’d go a couple times a year, but this time felt, well, different. Unsettled. My internal compass kept swinging, unsure where to point.

When I feel uncertain, I turn to the natural world. Ants always seem to know what they’re doing, don’t they? There’s comfort in that. How does a salmon know it’s time to swim upstream to where its life began? How do birds and butterflies feel when they take flight to return to familiar trees?

Then, as I drove the rental car past my high school, mulling over my three years at the school newspaper and how I was an opinion editor then and I’m an opinion editor now, it clicked: I’m the salmon.

I began to let in a vague idea that yes, maybe I would return to St. Louis. It made sense, in the future tense.

But as I’ve learned since being widowed the day after Thanksgiving in 2019 and from living through this pandemic, waiting for the future is folly.

My talk of a future move grew into knowledge in the present. It’s time.

There are logistics. The last time I job hunted the internet as we know it hadn’t been born. St. Louis humidity isn’t limited to a two- or three-week period of suffocatingly hot dampness you endure because it means monsoon rains have arrived. There’s snow, the kind that sticks and needs shoveling. And tornadoes.

But there are also lightning bugs, rivers with water and possibilities.

I’ve been thinking about how we journalists time travel. We report what’s happening now, or what is expected to happen, and by the time we share our work, even minutes later, it’s the past. I’m in that liminal space between story completion and publication, between knowing my new chapter is coming and turning the page.

So here I sit, writing and revising my final column for the Arizona Daily Star in an apartment peppered with plastic bins, ready for the movers, waiting for departure day to arrive. I don’t know what’s next.

When I arrived in Tucson in August 1990 for college, I didn’t know what was ahead. I’d visited the summer before on a church youth group work trip, spending a couple days here before heading to Mexico. I fell in love.

I returned to look for that love and I found it in abundance. I found it in the desert and the mountains, in the students I taught at the University of Arizona, in readers who embraced me and those who might be glad I’m leaving. I found that love in how Tucsonans race outside at the first tinkling of rain and how 60 degrees is cold.

I found love watching an adorable creature in the desert arrange its nest, only to learn later that it was a packrat. I found love in red chile and pan dulce, in trees with green trunks and the battleship-sized beetles they attract.

I found it in important but interminable school board and local government meetings. Love appeared in the trust Tucsonans showed in their flood of letters to the editor and in the work and friendship of talented, funny colleagues.

I found love in Tucson. I hope I’ll find it again in St. Louis.

Thank you.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Star’s Opinion editor and columnist. Email her at sgassen@tucson.com


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