It’s 12 hours and 50 minutes into the new year and I find myself curled up in my reading chair, snuggling a purring cat and lost in my thoughts. This isn’t altogether unusual – I often drift off into my own thoughts, chasing story ideas, mentally playing with clever turns of phrase that develop into a poem, or dreaming up my next travel escapade. However, today it’s different – the chronic traveler is pondering the meaning of home.
My recent Christmas trip to my hometown in Portland, Oregon and the flight back to what the government legally defines as my home (Wisconsin) have led me inevitably to struggle with the tension I experience every time I make this journey. Why do I call Portland “home” and Appleton, Wisconsin “the place I live right now”?
Every traveler faces these kind of ponderings, even the most hardcore free spirits who are constantly setting off to new horizons, never content to stay long in one location. In their case, I see a deep yearning to find that one place they can philosophically call home. In my case, while I am curious about the world, and long to engage with and learn from vastly different cultures, I have always known without question that Portland is home. So what do I mean by home?
Every individual, community, and culture’s definition of home varies slightly, but I see it as a spiritual connection with a place – its geography, people, values and ways of viewing the world – that informs and shapes my identity. I may be an individual striving out into the world, making decisions and developing my own views, but those decisions and views will always be molded by the sense of connection and identity I have with my home.
For example, Portland is nestled in a fertile valley between two mountain ranges, the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains. The jaw-dropping expanse of the Columbia River Gorge is practically in my parent’s backyard. I grew up hiking among the Gorge’s lush ferns and waterfalls, jumping into the car at a moment’s notice to drive out to the craggy, mist-enveloped Oregon Coast, and canoeing on mountain lakes that served as mirrors for Mt. Hood. Even within the city, Portland harbors parks that seem a million miles away from the bustle of city life, such as the hiking trails of Forest Park. Growing up amidst all this awe-inspiring geography, I couldn’t help but make a connection of the soul with Portland, Oregon. Today, I stand up straighter, breathe deeper, feel truly at peace when I am among the forests and rivers of the mountains, or feel the salty caress of ocean breezes and hear the pounding surf. This is my identity. I wither under intense humidity, feel strangely claustrophobic amid the vast flat expanses of the prairie sky. I need the mountains.
There are other aspects of Portland that have informed who I am today and how I engage with the world, too many to discuss right now – Portland’s emphasis on smart urban planning, an abundance of bike lanes, a vibrant downtown that continues to pulse at night with microbreweries, independent coffee shops and bookstores, the performing arts, an expansion of the light rail system MAX. Growing up enmeshed in my father’s world within Portland’s native community and my mother’s Scandinavian family. All shape who I am.
This is the identity I take out into the world with me. This is the identity that engages in the ever-fascinating exchange of cultures at the core of travel.
This is my home.