Somehow, where a person grows up defines them. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately.
At my recent checkup, my doctor asked whether I had made any trips to third world countries lately. I jokingly said “Indiana, to visit my sister”. He asked where I was originally from and when I said Minnesota, he seemed satisfied. “That makes sense, because why would she move to Indiana if you were from the East coast?” Then he apologized in a lighthearted way for his prejudicial view on what he considered a “downward” move. I laughed and said it was no big deal, my husband has felt the same way since I met him. He considered New England to be the proverbial promised land.
New Englanders aren’t the only ones guilty of an inordinate pride based solely on geographic location. On the highway which slithers northward along Lake Superior toward Canada, there stood a billboard blazing the words, “Tired of the rat race?” I discovered recently that piece of advertising shaped my entire view on where to live. I’ve always felt that the “smart ones” escape big city life to settle in some remote northern territory. A place paradisaic in beauty during the summer, but barely habitable in winter due to massive snow banks and deadly wind chills. These are the ones who were living their hamster wheel lives, but one day while fishing on a northern lake during their one week of vacation, they decide it’s not worth it. They decide to quit fighting the traffic snarls on their way to a dog-eat-dog corporate job in the city. Why wait until retirement to enjoy nature every day?
I was not one of those “smart ones” trickling in from the nearest big city. I was lucky enough to have been born there. I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way. I was already in God’s country, and only I was going to choose where and when to leave.
Researchers have pinpointed a connection between our sense of smell and our memory. A few years ago on a family road trip we drove through Wisconsin in summer. The smell of the wildflowers and fresh mown grass along the country highway took me instantly back to my childhood. It felt strange to have my senses supersede conscious thought and transport me bodily to a time and place I didn’t know I had forgotten. No gourmet dinner could smell better. No luscious perfume could have delighted me more. In that moment of recognition I became “me” in a way I hadn’t felt in decades.
I feel enriched for having these realizations about my roots. Would I have had them without leaving? Maybe not. Each place I have moved has set off a new evolution of self within me. I first seek to understand and fit in with the locals. At some point I discover some fundamental way I differ. Unconsciously, I analyze whether this difference is something I like and agree with or not. At some still further point I inevitably find a difference between myself and my new abode that I refuse to assimilate. I then go through a rebellion of sorts, as I stubbornly assert my own identity shaped by my home.
I’ve come to welcome this process. Even though some of it can be painful in the moment. It’s part of what makes travel and moving so positive. It has helped me learn about myself in ways that would never have been possible. The only problem with this is people who understand my perspective have become fewer and farther between.
The other day we were walking on a quiet street in Pawtucket and saw a home for sale. I wondered aloud what it might cost (this curiosity comes from having a builder husband). My friend asked whether we would consider buying a home there. I said probably not. We would be more likely to look for a place in a quieter area. She couldn’t understand what more I could be looking for. Only 2 cars had driven by on that street in 30 minutes. She said, “that’s only because you come from ultra wilderness.” I agreed.
When I get near a lake, any lake, my whole being exhales and each muscle releases all accumulated tension. The waves greet the shore with a display of sound and reflected light that changes by the moment. The sky meets water like a friend and opens up to reveal it’s beauty, whether it be breathtaking sunsets or enigmatic cloud formations or pinpricks of star shine on a blanket of blackness. Each season displays it’s own shade of blue in sky and water. Each day has it’s own mood ranging from introspective stillness to raging froth. And when I slide into the water, it envelops me like a womb, and I am home.