Earlier this week, I enjoyed reading a post on the Center for the New American Dream blog by April Roggio titled Reflections on a Resilient Family Road Trip in which she reflects on a recent 6 week, cross-country trip with her family of eight cozied up in a 1976 motor home. In an effort to answer some questions, they wanted to:
“find some rural places in our continental US that were thriving… to find out if there were folks who had bounced back from the recession, who were prosperous and optimistic about the future. And we wanted to determine if [people] were thinking about some of the big obstacles that a lot of us are facing: how were communities dealing with climate change, for example? And how [are] they addressing the widening income disparities in our nation? How can we nudge our communities towards more resilient, self-sufficient and people-centered places?”
After reflecting on the experience, Ms. Roggio concludes with this:
“We have come to rethink some of our initial beliefs about the importance of geography — to paraphrase something we heard at the amazing Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas, we understand that beautiful, irrational commitment to place. But those ties are becoming far less resilient over time, and more and more of us are taking to the open road, either because our homes have become economic wastelands, or because our concern for the future, for our children’s futures, compels us to search farther and farther away from home.
We have decided ourselves, to try for something different, to make a break for a more nomadic lifestyle, to search for abundance, to give our children the world. We have decided it’s high time we gently refuse to go along with the lifestyles we were prepared for, that we have been groomed to accept.
And while I both identified with and appreciated the intention of the piece, I would like to enter the conversation with a little bit of added perspective.
First, a short personal history. Full disclosure compels me to admit that I have had a bad case of wanderlust for most of my life. I have travelled extensively and would recommend it to anyone. There is no question that we learn a great deal about our values, ourselves, and the world through travel. I have also bicycled across the country and through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, both of which required stripping my life down to the essentials and slowed me down enough to engage with local people, garnering a more robust picture of rural America. These experiences of living a pared-down life and moving around have been some of my best, and the lessons that came with them continue to inform me.
But for thirty-three years I have also been in partnership with a man who tends to be more grounded than I am. We have enjoyed many of these adventures together, but as we got older— as we started a family and leaned into work— I continued to feel the frequent tugs to move around, while he felt increasingly committed to place. Learning to stay has been a lifelong lesson of mine, but I now see its value in ways that were more challenging when I was younger.
For reasons still unclear to me, we ended up settling in the Midwest —far from my East Coast roots. I never imagined when I came to Wisconsin for graduate school that my children would be born here, that our community would be found here, that I would end up living more than ½ my life in a state that had no mountains, no ocean, and brutally cold winters. These things, in addition to the current political tenor of our state and raising my children so far away from old friends and family, have been challenging, and have many times pulled my resolve stay into question.
But now, after having spent eleven years in Madison, and an additional fourteen in rural Wisconsin, I see the importance of setting down roots.
The immeasurable gifts our children have gained from having a strong, multi-generational community invested in their wellbeing, the immense net of support that has propped up our family since my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, in addition to the gifts we have been able to give back to our community, are all part of a symbiotic relationship that cannot be cultivated in the same way with a nomadic life. At the end of the day, I believe that investments in community are necessary for healing what ails us. The communities that Ms. Roggio applauds are thriving because people have committed to them. They have embraced the hard work and the frustrating pace that is almost always too slow for people who would like to see a better world. They have carried out the work of difficult conversations and sometimes outright heartbreak. They have shown a willingness to stay through challenge and hardship in order to build something a little more lovely —even when it is a painstakingly slow process. The commitment to social justice, to rebuilding our soils, to sustainable agriculture practices, to municipal shifts toward alternative energy, toward local living economies and more transparent government (and the list goes on and on) can only occur when there are people willing to engage with each other and commit together to doing the hard work it takes to build something better.
I think it is interesting that Ms. Roggio chose to spend her time examining rural America in search of resiliency and abundance. For the past 5 years, I have been curating a website that examines exactly that —small town communities that strive toward resiliency and are flourishing, when so many others are dying. The common thread I have found in this quest is that the towns that are thriving have strong collectives of people committed to their place.
Often the transitional years in these towns (and the same could be true for any community) are comprised of a small number of creative people— working to find the right balance between a local culture with its established industry and a future that is resilient and sustainable — holding a vision with unwavering clarity. Over time, the vision builds until there is a tipping point —a moment when increasing numbers of people recognize the momentum and are willing to come on board to contribute their gifts to the building and from there on, things fall into place more easily.
Committing to a place does not mean that we need to fall prey to the pulls of mainstream culture. Today, there are increasing numbers of people who are recognizing the costs that come with “business as usual” and who are choosing to simplify their lives —choosing to have less stuff: choosing to work less: choosing to spend more time with friends and family: choosing to travel. But in the end, none of these choices rules out a commitment to place.
So while I encourage everyone to go out —to experience the world and learn from it— I also suggest that there is something valuable and healing in commitment — in finding your people, finding your place, recognizing the gifts you have to give and applying yourself to creating the world you would like to see.
and I could go on and on….
To read the original post Reflections on a Resilient Family Road Trip click here: