Sailing Away From Paradise


One of my favorite quotes is one by Mark Twain, and I find it to be very fitting at this point in my life:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”


Anyone who has sailed away from “the safe harbor” knows how thrilling – and completely terrifying – it can be. Usually, I know nothing about this kind of risk, but I will soon. In about a month and a half, I’m moving to the Windy City of Chicago – after spending most of my life living on the peninsula. Most people reading this article would not think of moving to Chicago as a “risky” move. Depending on the amount of traffic, one can get from Chicago to Door County in about four to five hours.


When I was a teenager, I always thought it would be the other way around – that Door County would provide a respite from whichever glamorous city that I happened to be living in. In college I dreamed of going out to New York City, or somewhere in Southern California so I could pursue a career in film. But, life sometimes has other plans, and I found myself moving back to Door County upon my graduation from UW-Madison in 2003.


At the beginning of this year, Pulse reporter Myles Dannhausen wrote an article entitled “Coming Home.” The article talked about a book by Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas called Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America. The two authors interviewed hundreds of graduates from a small town in Iowa about why they chose to leave, stay, or return to their home communities, and the influences that led to that particular decision. If Carr and Kefalas would have asked me why I chose to return to Door County, I would have told them that at first, it was the easy thing to do. I didn’t have a job anywhere else, and I felt like I needed to take a bit of time and figure out the next steps that I wanted to take. I felt like I had my whole life ahead of me. A few years later, I found myself in the slow, easy routine of the peninsula (Well, “slow and easy” for the winter months, at least). I started to understand the economy of our peninsula and how dependent we were on tourism and agriculture, which were things I never thought of when I was a teenager working my summer jobs. I stopped looking at my return to Door County like it was a failure on my part and more as a decision to contribute to my community in a meaningful way. I took pride in being a “local.”


Somewhere in the past few years, though, I’ve had a yearning to live somewhere else. Part of this is that I’ve traveled to a number of places that have just felt like home – which is bizarre in its own way, seeing I never thought anywhere but Door County could ever spur that feeling in me. But the other part of the equation is that for the past few years, I’ve been feeling like something’s missing in my life. That there’s so much out there that I haven’t been able to experience, and I know that I need to do it now.


To say that I’ll miss Door County is a severe understatement. There are things I’ll miss that are completely obvious to me, such as getting to eat lunch at my grandma’s house every day (she lives two block away from my job at the Hardy Gallery), or doing laundry at my mom’s house and getting to talk with her while I’m folding. Driving through Peninsula State Park on a perfect, sunny fall day. Not having to lock my car every time I get out of it. And man, am I gonna miss Leroy’s Coffee.


One of the interesting things about planning a move away from Door County (at least, when you’ve been part of the scenery for awhile) is trying to explain to people why you’re doing what you’re doing in a way that doesn’t make you sound completely insane. After all, many people spend their entire lives trying to get to the point where they can live here. More than one person has said to me, “Why would you want to move there? Everyone who is there is trying to get back here!” While I’m compelled to agree with them most days, I do have to reference the proverbial “grass is always greener” argument. Yes, I love living in Door County, but many visitors don’t understand the cruel irony that is living and working on the peninsula – you DO live in paradise, but you’re often so busy that you don’t have time to fully enjoy it like you do when you’re on vacation. In this way, perhaps the best part about moving away is getting to enjoy the peninsula when I return for weekends and holidays.


The decision to move has also brought up a myriad of different emotions. The most ironic is the girl who thought she was taking the easy way out by moving back to the peninsula after graduation is also the same girl who now thinks that she’s taking the easy way out by moving to a larger city. I often fret that, as silly as this sounds, I won’t be “city” enough to live in Chicago. When last weekend’s Pumpkin Patch Festival brought an increase in traffic to the county, I thought about the Chicago traffic I’ve been privy to and silently freaked out in my car. While I’m excited about this new journey, I have to say that I’m a realist. I don’t think living in Chicago will be better than living in Door County; after all, that’s kind of hard to gauge. I realize that I might very well have to work the same amount of hours I do right now to make ends meet. I understand that the city might not be the change I was looking for, and I might wind up back here.


However, I also know that I’ll never know what could have been if I don’t sail away from this safe harbor. And while many people I talk to don’t necessarily understand why I’m moving away from this beautiful paradise, they do understand that argument.


As a Peninsula Pulse and Door County Living contributor since 2007, Melissa would like to thank the many Door County residents and visitors that have taken the time to read her articles and send her comments over the years. She is also forever grateful that she’s been able to write for such amazing publications and thanks the Peninsula Pulse staff for being great friends and allowing her to pursue her passion for writing.