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.