Of all the reasons I left, for the Next Thing, this is the best one. Ask any therapist or life coach: it’s better to run toward something than it is to run away from something. And I’m coming to realise there are always going to be other versions of the same old problems in new places. Anchorage’s residents were conservative gun-lovers, but Bend’s are pretentious snobs. Anchorage’s trails were too familiar and came with the risk of encountering dangerous wildlife. while Bend’s trails are overcrowded and come with the risk of encountering dangerous humans.
But the world? Well, the world is the world.
Ever since I was little, I realised I wanted to explore the world. My little tiny corner of northern Ohio was never enough for me. I might have caught the travel bug from my older brother Nick, who stormed off in fit of defiance to go live in Texas and try to make it big as a drummer for a rock band
(they failed and he snorted up any profits he might have made, and came running back to the safety of Ohio when he found himself in real trouble some twenty years later).
My first plane flight was to visit him during my college spring break, and I thought Houston was the most magnificent thing I’d ever seen (which just goes to show you how much I loved travel itself, I think, as I’ve visited Houston since then, and, I have to say, it’s a shit-hole)
But my own impetus is more than just travel, just visiting a place. It’s the idea of having lived fully immersed in another culture. Every time I heard some military kid talk about having lived in Florence or Guam or Berlin, I would feel this dreamy longing come over me. How lucky they were to have had a parent whose job it was to live in another country!
Then I started to travel more myself. My trips abroad with my future ex-husband frequently included an entire week spent renting a flat in a small village, usually in the French countryside, where we could explore the smaller things: little local hikes, a bike ride to a nearby vineyard, shopping for fresh fare at the Wednesday market then cooking up a simple meal in our flat’s small kitchen. For those moments, like walking into the same boulangerie for my morning croissant each day, I felt like a resident of the village.
One of my favourite travel memories was a week we spent in a tiny town called Nantoux about five miles outside Beaune in Burgundy. The village was so small there weren’t even any shops there. But those clever and practical French, they’d arranged to have a small van pull into the church (of course there was a church) parking lot each morning at 7am. It would sound a klaxon to announce its arrival. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, it sold bread and pastries; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meat and fish. -- That was also the flat whose loo door featured a large poster of a chimpanzee sitting on the toilet reading a newspaper. My brain is full of such charming travel memories.
Of course this post is about why I left Anchorage, friends I love, a job which had some pretty strong positive points, and thousands of acres of local wilderness, for something else, entirely unknown. And the best answer is: The World. And, maybe, time.
Now in my fifties, I already feel my body changing. It’s been a gentle reminder (and at times not so gentle) that I’m not going to live forever. Or I may not live healthfully forever. I could fall ill or become injured in such a way that impairs independent living. Not everyone lives to be ninety-five then dies quietly in their sleep. But just now in my life, I am fortunate to be healthy and whole. Seems a shame to waste that gift.
And I’m employable. Perhaps not by those who are closed-minded to the value an older “new” employee might add to a workplace, but I know my worth and feel confident someone else might recognize that, as well.
But this is just the fear creeping in, these justifications. The purest reason for me leaving is that *I* want to be one of those people who, later in life, is comforted by memories of having worked as a vet in Wales for six or seven years. Or having run a hiking company through the GR trails of the Jura region of France. Or working for a vintner on the south island of New Zealand for a while.
Most of my friends have similar wanderlust but other anchors and obligations, usually family -- children, husbands, parents. I have none of those things, for good and bad. But some people just don’t understand my motivation at all. They get this quizzical look as if I’ve just expressed an interest in learning to ride ostriches. “Umm, okay.”
But that’s okay. In fact, that’s sort of the whole point, really. How big the world is and how many different types of people there are in it. I want to experience that, first hand, as more than a visitor. On some level, I don’t think I even really care where I go. Of course language is an issue, and though I do speak French and Spanish, I don’t speak either like a native -- maybe enough to run a take-away food shop, but probably not enough to coordinate travel plans for locals on holiday.
So, then, the World. The big wide wonderful world. I’m going to go out into it for the same reason people climb mountains: Because it’s there.