Becoming People of a Place
Not to brag, but I have a great job.
I work with college students across the States and Canada helping them in their campus sustainability efforts. I work with students who trying to understand that sustainability isn’t just a term used in the environmental science circles, but a lifestyle that they hope to see spread throughout their respective campuses.
The reason I tell you this, is because on occasion, I have the opportunity to travel to these campuses and visit with the students. Earlier this year, I spent four weeks travelling the west coast, visiting eight campuses in or near places like Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles – you know, the cities that young folks like myself often only dream of.
Recently, my mom was inquiring about that trip, so I showed her some photos I took along the way and shared their respective stories – collecting oysters while row boating in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia, spotting a bobcat while hiking in Los Padres National Forest in California and visiting the world-famous Pike Place Market in Seattle.
One thing you need to know about my mom, is that the furthest west she has been is eastern Illinois, and that was when she was 18 years old. She has happily lived in the same rural corner of northwestern Pennsylvania her entire life, just as her mother did and just as her mother did and so on. So when I showed her the photos and told her the stories, she seemed to enjoy the fact that her youngest son was a “traveller.”
Naturally, our ensuing conversation was on the topic of the places we have visited. The question of how many states we have visited came up and it was then that I realized, much to my surprise, that I have now visited more than half the states.
“Not bad for a 24-year-old from small town Pennsylvania,” exclaimed mom. “You’re already more than halfway there.”
As I thought about this statement more, I realized that “halfway there” is not necessarily an accomplishment.
“I’m not sure if I actually want to visit all the states,” I said sheepishly.
The conversation didn’t last too much longer, but I have been thinking about it ever since. I can’t stop asking myself some of the following questions:
What are the benefits and drawbacks to being on the go so much?
How does my ‘pack-a-bag-and-go’ attitude affect others?
How does this attitude affect me?
Why do we view visiting all fifty states or filling a passport with stamps as an achievement?
Realistically, I will never visit all fifty states, and even if I do, so what?
I’ve come to realize there is very little to gain by conquering these travel challenges other than some sweet photos and memories that are difficult to share with anyone who wasn’t there with you. The way I see it, as displayed to me foremost by my parents and grandparents, is that there is much more to gain by staying put.
For example, my dad seems to know every person, road, creek, tree and animal that calls that part of Pennsylvania home. He knows things like the location of the eagle’s nests in the area, the productivity of each year’s tapping of the sugar maple trees, the length of the growing season, the best automotive repair shops, and certainly the quickest way to get home, no matter where he may find himself. Dad doesn’t know these things by chance, he knows because he has stayed put and observed fervently. It may be worth noting here, that my parents are not farmers. They live on approximately a quarter of an acre in town within range of the constant sounds of a manufacturing shop. There is one tree on their property.
Maybe we need to rethink the accomplishments of travel. Maybe the fewer the places someone has been, the more reason to celebrate. Maybe my mom’s lack of travel has blessed her with something that I cannot understand – a place to call her own.
Before we get up and go, as we often do, may we consider the consequences of our movement. May we become people of a place.