I come from the type of town that most people grow up in, graduate from, and then promptly leave after they turn their tassel. It's literally a one-stoplight community, with the only traffic light installed less than 15 years ago. We have the basics: a local bank, dry cleaner's, handful of fast-food dives and a grocery store. We also have a slow and steady pace of life that can drive you crazy if you're from the big city. Despite going to college in our state's capital and immersing myself in the fast-paced life there, I found myself drawn back here when my husband and I were looking to settle down. No one is in a rush here, everyone knows everyone and if you're lucky enough to secure a parcel of land in these outskirts, you can bet it's the kind of place you'll want to put roots down in immediately.
Still, for all its charms, comforts and conveniences, small-town life can feel suffocating at times. This is especially the case when you're born with a free spirit and a deeply rooted need to explore, travel and dive headfirst into everything like I am. How does one reconcile the urge to find and discover new experiences in a place where everything has already been seen?
For years, my husband and I satisfied this feeling of being unsettled by going on long road trips. Back then, I worked as a proposal manager for a government contracting agency in a city 45 minutes away. Our busy season was always July through September and as soon as October 1 hit, we'd book a roundtrip flight somewhere, rent a car and head out. Before we had children, we took weeklong road trips down Highway 1 in California and Oregon, up the New England coastline, around Utah and New Mexico twice and to the Pacific Northwest. We saw mountains jutting into oceans and skies so jet black the stars seemed to dance. We went to hot air balloon festivals, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and an apple orchard in Connecticut. It was eye-opening, invigorating and a season of life we'll never forget.
Then, we really did settle down. Now, our little family is more inclined to take short trips to the beach rather than go on epic adventures. I know those will resume one day, and I can wait in the interim, but still, the need to get out there remains. So, too, does the understanding that I'm unlike many of my community counterparts in more ways than one. One example is that I've taken strides to adopt more eco-conscious and green practices than anyone in my family.
The kids and I compost, we raise free-range chickens in the field behind our home and we've even researched solar power options for our rooftop in an effort to reduce our carbon emissions and reduce our utility bills. Finding a way to weave these changes into family dinner table conversations might be challenging, but I press on with the dialogue in hopes that I can encourage my relatives to see the bigger picture, dream wider and explore alongside me.
At the end of the day, I wouldn't change growing up here for anything in the world. I was raised beside my cousins, deep behind a cornfield that grew tall every other summertime. It was a sweet and nostalgic upbringing that shaped me and defined who I truly am. Yet, in the time between leaving and coming back, I developed an uncanny and unexpected restlessness that cannot be removed no matter how many nights I spend under these same sleepy skies.
That's why I'm taking small steps to reclaim myself and rediscover my true identity. I'm unabashedly caring for the environment whether my loved ones understand my choices or not. I'm putting work aside momentarily to dance with my children in an afternoon rainstorm. I'm cooking dinner with the windows thrust wide open, the evening breeze blowing the cafe curtains around. I'm turning my music up loudly and running the gravel roads that connect my homeplace with my parents'. I might not live in a big city. I may not be off the grid in a tiny house living like the free spirit I really am. Instead, I might be planted right here in the middle of this tiny town forever. But that doesn't mean I can't bloom.