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A sense of place

The note and donation came from strangers who could almost be called neighbors. Friendly neighbors. I didn’t know them, but they were close enough to exult in the same wonderful library system, close enough that we may have bumped shoulders in the same Big City stores. They’d also renovated an old repo house on a hill. In short, we had a lot in common.

And they said they were, like me, choosing to stay put in their town — not moving to any inland redoubt as quite a few other freedomistas have done. They put it interestingly; not only that they loved where they lived, but that they wanted to remain so they could be an asset to their community.


I’ve written before about how I belong to this place. I was pulled here by “messages from the universe,” which I normally don’t believe in. When I try to leave, I’m snapped back as if attached by a rubber band.

Yet in the last five years, as the Pacific Northwest has begun turning from a cheerful, light shade of blue to darkly authoritarian, intolerant billionaire blue, I’ve sometimes felt (and sometimes been informed) that I “should” get out.

One comment troll a few months back called me a hypocrite for even mentioning that “some of us might not relocate.” I laughed because the problem was obviously his, not mine. Relocation for greater liberty or security is an option, not some Centrally Dictated Requirement Without Which You Should Just Drop Dead. Creating a free mindset is a much bigger (and harder) deal than choosing a free(r) location.

Still, for freedomistas the question to relocate or not to relocate can be a biggie. Well, never say never. But it’s safe to say on my own behalf, “Damned unlikely.” And the same is of course true for millions of freedom-loving people. We all have our reasons.


I grew up with no sense of place. My family moved six times in three states before I hit the first grade. Then when Mom and Dad finally settled, it was into a bleak, hot, sterile bedroom community I never belonged to and couldn’t wait to get out of. (Even now, if I look at that location via satellite pix or streetview, I shudder at how barren, characterless, and crammed with anonymous humanity Silicon Valley is.)

When I did eventually get out of California after moving several times as a young adult, always within Silicon Valley, I left for the worst of reasons — “love.” That part didn’t work out. Still, I enjoyed my years in the upper midwest. It was beautiful, mostly rural, and there I got my first taste of real neighborhoods and community. Only toward the end did I realize something about me didn’t fit the place and vice versa. (The fact that I was being stalked and threatened with death had something, though not everything, to do with it. Had I deeply loved the place and its people, I’d have toughed that out.)

But where to go, where to go? Montana, maybe? New England? The Gulf Coast? Offshore? “The universe” eventually told me: northwest. That was 30-some years ago.


One of my first childhood memories is walking with my favorite aunt along a country path somewhere north of Seattle with a seemingly endless bank of ferns rising above, before, and behind us. Now a bank of ferns much like that rises behind my house and every time I gaze at it, I feel intense belonging.

When I walk along the neighborhood or town streets, I feel the same.

Damn the billionaires’ ghastly gun laws; free people will thwart them. Damn the madness of Portland or Seattle and the urbanites who consider the rest of us deplorable and disposable. Damn the fact that so many of them regard the real world as their private playground, to be kept pristine for their use, without a care for the people who live and work here — and that by their sheer and increasing numbers and v*tes, they control us in too many ways.

Despite all that, here is a place worthy of both a pleasant life and, if needed, a stand. Here are people who help each other in everyday things and who would have each other’s backs in harder times. Here is a place not only to have such people, but to be such a person. To be as solitary as I wish, yet part of a true community.


Have you ever told an online acquaintance that they “should” get out of some statist hellhole they’re living in? Some state, country, or megalopolis where the taxes or the gun laws or the building restrictions or the crazy poly-ticks or more likely all of the above have become so oppressive you wonder how any freedom-seeking soul could bear it?

Yeah, I have, too — though I try to do it only when the place in question is in the league of, say, New Jersey.

And sometimes people stay in such places only out of inertia or lack of creative vision, which is a shame. But for the most part, freedom seekers who remain in dismal tyrannies have strong, personal reasons — job, family, an upside-down house they can’t sell, nearness to favorite recreations, roots and history.

I knew one woman who’d never leave the county where she lived because it was named after her ancestors. Her vast family had been growing there 175 years. Another friend thought about relocating, but didn’t want to leave the graves of his revolutionary antecedents.

Pretty powerful inducements to stay put. As somebody who grew up rootless, I almost envy such thick webs of connection, even though for me they’d chafe like rope.


Sometimes people stay in a place for intangibles. You arrive there, you belong; end of story. I don’t recall which Commentariat member said it (speak up if it was you), but he spoke of accepting an on-a-whim offer to help a friend transport a vehicle cross-country. In the middle of the trip he discovered completely unknown territory that he instantly perceived as home.

My link to the northwest is like that. Yes, I have those early fern memories that surely helped inspire me to seek fern country. But I also have early palm tree memories from Silicon Valley, a place for which I’ve never felt a moment’s connectedness. For me, there is just something about the northwest. I could cite all kinds of great reasons to be here, but they wouldn’t get to the essence; there’s no point in even trying to analyze it.

Embarrassingly though, even after the somewhat magical, mystical, highly uncharacteristic (for me) path that brought me here, I was still slow to get it. I’ve left twice.

My first venture was to Wyoming, where I lived five years with my Significant Sweetie (who has a similarly powerful attachment to that state, although his is political, not intangible). We broke up and I came to the acre of land I’d saved back here.

Then we thought about reuniting. I met him east of the mountains, and it looked for a while as if we’d get back together. As I drove westward toward home after our visit, I thought perhaps we would — until the moment my old truck crested the Cascades. That exact moment. Even though I was on the freeway with way too much civilization to trudge through before reaching home, I was instantly overwhelmed with a visceral sense of belonging. My psyche was screaming at me to go home and stay, stay, stay, stay, stay!

Years later, a 43% increase in property taxes drove me once more out of the PNW. That time I really didn’t want to go, but I was resigned and I did have another potential home. So what the hell; give it a try. I went to the desert. I lasted 14 months before again bouncing back.

Yep, definitely a slow learner. As a formerly rootless person, I simply assumed I could live happily anywhere. It took me a ridiculously long time and multiple false moves to realize I can’t. “Home” for me could be any rural spot west of the Cascades in Oregon or Washington. But that’s it. That’s my territory. I came back nine years ago and don’t dare leave. Heaven knows what “the universe” would do to me if I was stupid enough to try exiting one more time.

And maybe my territory is smaller than the whole coast. Much smaller. The size of one small town. Maybe one neighborhood.


The place I live, and have lived on and off for most of 30-some years, isn’t my favorite spot on this beautiful (cold, foggy, dismally gray, eternally rainy) northWET coast. But it’s my community and that has come to mean more to me than it ever did in my rootless youth, or even my rootless middle age. It’s a blessing to me and I hope (as those friendly readers and donors at the top of this blog said so beautifully of themselves) I’m an asset to it.

After a lifetime of zig-zagging from place to place (except for those 20 years in the inhuman anonymity, smog, and traffic jams of Silicon Vally, which I’d have liked to zig-zag out of) I’m now at last among those enviably rooted people.

After a lifetime of suspiciously easy detachments from family, friendships, and relationships, roots and community have even come down to meaning specific people — people above all like Furrydoc, The Wandering Monk, and Neighbor J, but also the people at the grocery store and the thrift store and the utility company. People with whom I share connections, experiences, and certain parts of a wider worldview. People I can count on and who, I hope, could count on me.


People stay in place for intensely personal, not always explicable, reasons. They also relocate for intensely personal, though usually more explicable, reasons.

One friend-I’ve-never-met just left his beautiful ocean-view home to go inland. The western redoubt is for him and his family. He felt rooted in this same coast I belong to, but seeks a more defensible, less “progressive,” place because he sees hard times ahead.

Actually, two people I know recently left the PNW for the redoubt. The other is also doing well in a mountain fortress, despite several years of hardship, familial chaos, and painful Learning Experiences.

Another cheerfully escaped Taxachusetts for a Texas ranch. I think he chose Texas for pragmatic reasons (both freedomista and related to business). But he’s content there.

Yet another rejoices everyday that he’s out-out-out of the statist east forever and enjoying the freedom of the PNW coast (and in his case, particularly enjoying the liberal PNW pot laws).

Then there’s Joel, who wandered almost by happenstance into his place, but who belongs profoundly by choice and nature to the very high desert that could never be home to me. He’s away from home now and can’t wait to return to the desert with all its hardships and deprivations.

On the other hand, I’ve known people who relocated for sound freedomista reasons who found it a terrible, wrenching, disillusioning experience. They’re now overjoyed to be back in familiar places. But they also learned from their painful relocations and are living different, much freer lives in their old territories — even though an outsider looking in might perceive those places as statist, too close to civilization, or just wrong by their standards.

I cheer those who move to freer locales and who have either the financial resources or the sheer ballsy fortitude — or both — to make it wherever they land, wherever they choose.

As for me — and maybe those friends-I’ve-never-met in that other nearby bit of the PNW — this place owns me. I also own a piece of it, but the real ownership goes the other way. I’ve been happy in many locations. But for the first time in my life I belong someplace and belong to someplace and I’ve finally, belatedly, gotten smart enough to know it.

Whatever your choices, I hope they’re as fortunate and as right for you as mine. I hope, when and if scarily hard times come, you and your place will stand for each other.


  1. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal June 15, 2019 12:13 pm

    I understand.

    I knew I was home when I moved to the place I knew (discovered?) I belonged. Bad situations (of my own doing) caused me to leave. Twice. And now I doubt I’ll ever move back. I can’t afford to.

    I tell people that every place has its good and its bad, you just have to make the best of where you are. But, with each passing year I secretly believe that less and less.

    I know I don’t belong where I am. I’ve tried to grow roots and accept this as home. I should have roots here. This is where I was born. It’s where my grandparents lived all my life. It’s where my parents were born and where they live– about 7 blocks from me. My grandfather built most of the nice homes in the area. My family is mostly here. Even my son recently moved within easy driving distance. I should be content.

    But this has never been home. I want to feel like I belong here. I try to act as though I do, hoping the feeling will follow the behaving. But this place is slowly suffocating me.

    So, don’t let anything trick you into leaving where you know you belong. It’s not worth it.

  2. Jorge
    Jorge June 15, 2019 1:36 pm

    “Damned unlikely.” Yeah, that applies to me. For me it is this piece of land. Everything my late wife and I did here and everything I have done since she passed. The political and economic environment may goes south around me but this place is mine. I am home. I am not leaving.

    I could pursue some interests better elsewhere but the over all quality of life would not be as good. And I would not feel like I was home.

    I have two friends, one keeps prodding me to move to Berlin, the other to Sydney. They both point out, correctly, all the things and activities I could enjoy that are missing here. And yet…

    The simple pleasures I have here far out weigh the wine selection (a common pitch from both of them).

    As far as freedom goes, that is mostly in one’s head. Misquoting Heinlein here, I am free, if the laws are tolerable I tolerate them, if not I break them. It is a simple as that. The right attitude is far more important than the “right” location.

    Stay where you feel comfortable. And yeah, never say never, but if you do go be sure it is for a damn good reason.

  3. Fred M.
    Fred M. June 15, 2019 5:55 pm

    Home really is where your heart is.We sometimes make the wrong decision to move just as we sometimes make the wrong decision to stay. We lived through the Sylmar earthquake in Southern California 1971; it was eventful to say the least, however, I recall reading about a couple who lived in the San Fernando Valley when the quake hit and they were petrified. They had it with living in an environment when you didn’t know when the next quake would hit and they packed up their kids and home and moved to Florida. Within a year the Florida area they lived in was hit by a mega hurricane that flattened their home. That’s sort of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. The point being is that you have no control over the forces of nature so it’s best to avoid planning on natural events.
    One Second After is a book by William R. Forstchen, and in it he describes what happens to a small town in the mountains of North Carolina after the United States is hit with a nuclear warhead, exploded in the atmosphere, that creates an EMP and shuts down all electrical and electronic devices throughout the U.S. The book takes the reader through the first year and the town people’s struggle to stay alive and civilized. Because no truck or cars are running, there is no food, outside of a three day supply in the stores. Medicines are what you have when the EMP went off, and some of those need to be under refrigeration which is non-existent since there is no electricity. What I find interesting about the story is how a group of people are able to pull together, pool their resources and talents, and manage to survive. So staying in place can work but it does take some dedicated individuals of the “A” type to get things organized.
    By the way, I just came across a company, EMP Shield, LLC, that makes surge protecting devices for your home and vehicles. And they are working with the military, electrical, and industrial companies to harden their electrical devices. I had one of their units put into each of our cars and I will be installing one in my home. The hardware they build is able to shut down and protect a car or home within one, one-billionth of a second.
    My advice is to stay where you are most comfortable and to prepare for what you can, not what you would like; but always have a back door handy!

  4. Those People
    Those People June 15, 2019 6:58 pm

    Wonderful post, Claire.
    Also escapees from the Bay Area (which was kind of nice when I was a little kid) and Manhatten (which never was).

  5. John Wilder
    John Wilder June 15, 2019 9:53 pm

    Wonderfully said. Some places draw you, and won’t let you go.

  6. maDDtraPPer
    maDDtraPPer June 15, 2019 11:31 pm

    Home is an interesting concept and home is where the heart is wasn’t penned on a whim. While I do agree that the heart can be anywhere, there remains that occasional coming together of many factors in life that makes ONE spot THE spot, if your lucky enough to find it.
    I’ve literally been everywhere. Just like the Johnny Cash song. I found a place very much like you speak of that as soon as I went there I knew it was THE spot. No matter where I go, what I do I always come back to it. It’s as far from “home” as it can get, meaning where I grew up and family and friends, making it that much harder to be there. But there’s no doubt about it it’s where the universe wants me to be.

  7. Brandon Aal
    Brandon Aal June 16, 2019 9:24 am

    I worked for a fellow who owned a ranch in the Okanogan of NE Washington. He always said “it’s not perfect, but it’s the place I’ve got”.

    After building my homestead in [what used to be] a remote valley in SW Montana, I keep reminding myself of what that rancher said, however my doubts continue to rise for the long-term plausibility of making this region work. Californians and East Coasters keep buying up the land, and building their Montana Fishing Mansions. They have driven up the regional land prices exponentially, and taxes have tripled in the last five years.

    A fourth-generation ranching family who live nearby have put it succintly- “The people who work and farm here cannot afford to live here any longer.” Year-by-year that family have had to sell off their land just to pay the taxes, and consequently, more fishing mansions get piled in where their cattle used to graze, where their children used to roam and explore. What their ancestors built up over a century of hard work is whittled away.

    I planted an orchard that will outlast me, and even my children. But will this valley still be the wild, remote land I used to know? Will my children be able to raise their children drinking the raw and wild creek water flowing through this valley? Or will my children have to subdivide this property just to pay the taxes to hold on to the homestead that I carved out? Will these apple trees be cut down so that another East Coaster can smugly look out as my homestead shrinks, and as their septic tank effluence leeches into my creek?

    I try to banish despairing thoughts, but they do creep in. For now, I will keep on with this place- not perfect- but it is paid off, and it is the place I’ve got.

  8. Steve Watt
    Steve Watt June 16, 2019 11:09 am

    Home! And this is my room — and you’re all here! And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And — Oh, Auntie Em — there’s no place like home!—-L.Frank Baum

  9. larryarnold
    larryarnold June 16, 2019 2:08 pm

    I, too, moved around a lot. But when I got here, I felt at home.

    I remember coming here to Boy Scout and church camps, but it wasn’t Home then. I guess I had to grow into it.

    So, yes, your choice is your choice. We have a friend who lives in Buffalo, and bitches about the winter. But it’s her choice, and I don’t dispute it. After all, If all 300+ million of us agreed my place was Home and moved here, it wouldn’t be Here any more.

    Home can change. I interviewed someone recently: “Meanwhile, she says Boulder had become increasingly expensive. ‘It was so ‘hip’ they were closing elementary schools, because all the young couples were moving out.'” And my youngest left Honolulu for the same reason. But it’s their choice.

    Though I wish the politically-challenged among them would notice that what we have is why they moved here, and quit trying to “Turn Texas Blue.”

    The silver lining is that, when SHTF finally arrives, the dark blue folks will be in their dark cities waiting for Uncle Government to ride over the hill, while the freedomistas get on with life.

  10. Jolly
    Jolly June 17, 2019 7:10 am

    Maybe I’m just not developed enough, or I haven’t found “the place” as yet. I’ve lived over-a-year in twelve states, and three foreign countries. Big cities, medium cities, small towns, desert, PNW, Silicon Valley, South, North, East, West, Midwest, mountains, swamp, LA, woods, coastal, inland – just about everywhere possible.
    I’ve lived in houses, apartments, RVs, and condos. Plot sizes from .35 acres to 220 acres. Brand-new condo ( built in 1994 ), and my current residence – a Federal-style house in New Hampshire built ( around ) 1770.
    Every single place I’ve been able to settle – no problem. Even Canada. No place has called me permanently – but maybe that’s why my goal right now is to finish building-out my trailer and travel on the road for as long as I can.
    That said, LOL, when I was traveling through Nevada one time, I saw a road sign for Yerington. I was driving north along a US highway, and a sign pointed left straight into the side of a mountain. No other sign of civilization – just a road -straight as an arrow- going up the side of a mountain.
    I have no idea why that stuck with me, as I’ve traveled coast-to-coast in the US at least two dozen times – in cars, pickups, RVs, and motorcycles.
    The google map of Yerington doesn’t look promising, but damnit, the next time I go West, maybe I’ll get to stop there.
    Just to see it.

  11. Pat
    Pat June 17, 2019 8:29 am

    I think I’n destined to have no “home.” I attended some 10 schools in 12 years, and had 12 jobs during 56 adult years of working, yet none of them was home except the town mentioned below.

    The one place my heart and mind felt truly a part of I left twice for different reasons. I still feel it calling even though 1) it has changed drastically due to tourism, and 2) I know I can never get there now.

    But it is a “sense of place” in the most basic sense for me: surrounded by mountains, with an atmosphere of live-and-let live: MYOB, nobody cares what you believe, and enjoy the people for what they are. Diversity, thy name is individuals. There was very little narcissism or power-brokering there; they worked together because this is what humans do for a common cause of harmony and productivity. My happiest place…

    (I’ve asked my son to scatter my ashes, without funeral or fanfare, in a wild part of the river that flows through that town after I’m gone. My only concession to “ritual.”)

  12. Tahn
    Tahn June 17, 2019 12:27 pm

    While I was only able to visit the place of my heart through the writings of a certain “Freedomista” friend, if I ever see a sign to “Lonelyheart Pass”, I’m turning up that road to Hardyville.

    Until I find it, I’ll keep trying to create it wherever I am.

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