November 8, 2017 • Sarah Jean Gosney
Sitting here looking out over my grandparents’ land that edges into the Gila National Forest of New Mexico, I can’t help but marvel at what an incredible space they have carved out for themselves in this world over the course of more than twenty years. By the time you read this, I will have departed, leaving behind the serenity of 3.3 million acres of forest. But for now, I sit atop a mountain, hearing nothing but the wind swaying over 300 million trees and the crow of two ravens who have been here as long as my grandparents. The November sun slants as if cocking its head to inspect me, and I am so far up that nothing can get between us.
We live in an age of constantly inspecting, dissecting, and rebuilding identity. We talk of gender, profession, age, race, religion, and political bent. But I rarely hear people talk about a sense of place. Far more often I see in my generation a gnawing wanderlust, a conviction that somewhere else is always better than here.
It doesn’t matter if you are a city dweller, a hillbilly, or live in the suburbs. What matters is that you pick a place and make it your own. Even if it is a tiny apartment, choose it. Invest in it.
Nothing can replace a strong community, and building or becoming a part of one takes years. As someone who has moved seven times in seven years (including once out of the country), I can assure you that the grass is not always greener. I am extremely grateful and privileged to have traveled as far and wide as I have, but what this experience has instilled in me is a deep craving for stability.
Like the roots of a tree, your place in your community will only grow deeper and broader as time goes on. The layers of meaning you can build over time are hard to even imagine for someone who has been so mobile, but I have been blessed to see the fruits of others’ labor and to experience the depth it can bring to your life.
It’s simple things like knowing where to find your favorite type of cheese at the grocery store or knowing how to navigate your area without ever touching a GPS. Being able to keep a houseplant, for god’s sake!
Discover your surroundings. Walk your city or your land regularly, and get to know its curves and edges. Park somewhere and get lost for a while.
Talk to the people you see every day. Learn their names. Ask the cashier about their day and listen. Eventually, they’ll give you a real answer. Cultivate a curiosity about people. Size them up and then challenge your assumptions in conversation.
Make your mark on your space. Gather meaningful photos, get a digital picture frame, and display your memories proudly in your home. Don’t let them slip fleetingly through your fingers on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Collect a few items that speak to you, and sprinkle them throughout your home. You can still be a minimalist and make an impression on a place. I still haven’t found those items for myself, but some display an heirloom rifle, a piece of china, or a piece of local art they splurged on because they couldn’t bear to not walk by it every day.
Smell is powerful too, as we all know. It triggers our memories before the conscious mind gets involved. Keep your home clean. You won’t be able to smell your home, but it will instantly imprint on guests as they walk in. Make sure that that smell isn’t rotting food or a litter box. You don’t even need air fresheners or other scented things that go “poof” in the night. (Admittedly, I love incense.) A clean, airy home is enough to welcome anyone. Build yourself a nest that you delight to come home to, not a place that adds stress to your day.
Invite people into your home (people you trust). I don’t care how small your place is, or if it doesn’t look like a snapshot from Home and Garden. People will come to know your home as a warm focal point, a pin in their map. Plus, we all know that people clean up the second before guests come over, so your place will always be tidier!
Let your county/town/city become a part of you. Get to know its history and its stories, and proudly share these with people who visit you. Many people have walked where you walk. Imagine their lives and let them color your own.
I’d love children to expand my branch of the family tree, although I don’t know yet where I will graft that branch. But that’s not what I am getting at here. Simply finding your own patch of green earth (or perhaps asphalt, if that’s more your speed) and sticking with it is a powerful way to build your life.
People flow and collect like water. You landed where you are for a reason. How have you built your home?
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