A frail, elderly woman in a remote part of the Philippines asked the question that would set a world traveller on a new path: “What is your homeland like?”
“Should I tell her about my current home in Washington, DC, where it is not safe for my son to play outside?” he wondered, but could not answer. She expectantly asked him the question again, smiling.
Finally, he blurted out an answer: “In America, we have careers, not places.” She looked on him with obvious pity. He was a world traveller, in the midst of a successful career monitoring the world’s social and ecological health for the Worldwatch Institute, but had no home.
The former traveler in question is Alan Durning, who wrote the 1996 book This Place on Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence. In the book he resolves to make Seattle “home” and in fact still lives there today.
What do you say when someone asks you “what is your homeland like?” If you grew up here in the Pacific Northwest, you may have vivid memories of your childhood immersed in this place of natural beauty.
Durning grew up in Seattle, and found his childhood memories drew him to re-settle in his birthplace.
But does geography really matter?
Many do not grow up in one place, and may have difficulty identifying their personal geography of “home.”
Many career paths require shifting residences and like Durning’s former career, may require extensive travel.
Can one feel at home away from home?
Thinking green here, your immediate environment cannot help but come to your senses. The air you breathe, the view you see, the sound of the birds, the local produce you buy in the store — you really cannot escape your geography.
Even if you stay locked up indoors and spend most of your time absorbed by virtual reality on electronic screens, your geography still surrounds you expectantly.
In fact, you will probably feel much more at home if you embrace your geography.
When I moved with my family to the west coast more than 20 years ago, we immediately started learning the local geography.
We began a pattern of exploring our surroundings on weekends and holidays that continues to this day.
We live in a remarkable place that I will never tire of exploring.
Some rainy days here on the wet coast, heading out to discover where you live is not too appealing.
Still, whatever the weather, seize the day, and learn more about what your homeland is like. And be prepared to testify.
David Clements, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University.