Could You Find Contentment in Your Own Backyard?
I have never wanted for spectacular sunsets. As an air force brat, a competitive ski racer, and then a journalist, I've watched the sun go down on five continents. I've lived in three countries and more than a dozen cities; trekked up and down the Alps, through Central American rainforests, and along Mediterranean coasts, seeking novelty and adventure. But a kind of loneliness lurked in my perpetual motion. I could fit in anywhere, yet I belonged nowhere.
Seven years ago, I fell in love with Cedaredge, the small town where my husband, Dave, yearned to settle, and together we decided to put down roots on a 16-acre homestead. Still, I refused to retire my passport. There were so many faraway mountains to climb and foreign cultures to explore. Tying myself to a single place felt confining—until finally, during a particularly irritating flight delay, it dawned on me that while I wasted time in crowded airport lounges, the life I'd dreamed of was waiting for me on the farm.
Later that week, I told Dave that I would spend the next 365 days practicing the art of living in place, never venturing more than 100 miles from home. It was my version of a Benedictine monk's vow of stability, in which he promises to remain in the same monastery for life, resolving to accept his assigned home as it is.
Although a part of me believed I was making a sacrifice, I found that when I narrowed my boundaries, I expanded my horizons. The friendship I forged with my octogenarian neighbors taught me that a shared commitment to place can create ties far stronger than age. Joining my library's board introduced me to bibliophiles I would have otherwise never met. And with a local activist whose politics make me cringe, I found common ground in our passion for growing raspberries.
But it was my dog who finally showed me the way home. Oskar inspired the ramble that would become our ritual. And after treading this little path for hundreds of days, I've stopped longing for far-flung adventures. Here I have the aroma of sage and the bluebirds and the craggy peaks surrounding me like an embrace. I share this space with the beings whose footprints I see in the mud—coyotes, turkeys, elk, and mountain lions—and my presence has turned me into a creature of the habitat just like them.
It has taken me most of my life to learn how to inhabit a place, and I learned it, finally, by walking—up the hill and around the back side of our farm, day in and day out. The repetition is the point. My journey home was not a whirlwind excursion but a geological process: my soul mingling with the soil, step by step, over time.
Christie Aschwanden, author of Good to Go (2020), is a science writer, health columnist and podcaster. Read her blogs at lastwordonnothing.com/christie.
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