People see my car and trailer plates and say “Oh, you’re from Washington!” which is true but not really true in the sense that it’s my home, or my home base. It’s gotten me to thinking about “a sense of place” in my life, where I belong, and where I feel at home.
Before I became a full-time vagabond, I was a traveler and a wanderer, never settling into one place with the idea I’d stay there forever. I grew up in LA, lived in the Hudson Valley, Boston, then Santa Cruz, and finally Seattle. All of those have one thing in common: each is completely different than the others. Manhattan really is like no other city on earth while Santa Cruz has a beach vibe that is uniquely its own. I lived in Boston 12 years, learning to live and die by the Pats and the Sox. In Seattle, the Space Needle was my true north as I learned my way around the city’s hills and alleys.
In traveling for work, I came to feel like other places were home as well: the lively streets of Dublin, the waterfront of Sydney, the glorious castles and restaurants of Luxembourg, the cobbled streets and parks of Vienna.
This vagabond life has widened my sense of place even more. I would never have dreamed that I would fall in love with the southwestern desert of New Mexico. Nebraska and Kansas were surprisingly diverse and beautiful, and the Blue Ridge Parkway so amazing I want to drive the full length of it from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley.
My wanderings have also strengthened my existing ties with with friends and with family. I’ve spent the last few months in Massachusetts revisiting friendships more than two decades old, enjoying the comfortable feel of hanging out, live and in person. I’ve met up with a friend from the UK on vacation in Cape Cod, and by phone, I’ve learned that a friend across the country is expecting her first child, a fact that will call me back to Seattle sometime in 2018, I’m sure, to celebrate that new life.
Maybe I was born to be a wanderer, sliding comfortably into wherever I find myself in this world. Maybe my sense of place will never be one geographical location or one community but an endless combination of water, desert, forest, big skies, and a circle of companions spread across the globe. I can live with that.
People develop a “sense of place” through experience and knowledge of a particular area. A sense of place emerges through knowledge of the history, geography, and geology of an area, its flora and fauna, the legends of a place, and a growing sense of the land and its history after living there for a time. The feel of the sun on your face or the rain on your back, the rough and smooth textures of the land, the color of the sky at morning and sunset, the fragrance of the plants blooming in season, the songs and antics of birds and the cautious ramblings of mammals are environmental influences that help to define a place.
…Developing a sense of place helps people identify with their region and with each other.
Dr. Thomas A. Woods