Settling In

I spent a lot of time last week thinking about what it means to really live some place. To commit to it. To invest in a landscape as you might invest in a life partner. For three years I practiced “settling in” in various fellowship and teaching gigs across the country. But the settling in I’ve experienced during this month of November has a different quality to it. There isn’t a time limit on my stay here, so I can seek out and encounter experiences without the punch-drunk high of a visiting writer in residence. It’s not feast or famine. It’s not fly by night. It’s not new-girl-in-town. And it’s not catch-me-if-you-can. Don’t get me wrong–that high was worth it; the past three years rocked the heck of out my life in a really good way.

Out of curiosity, I did a quick word search of The Writing Life for “settling in” and found myself proclaiming this feeling not once, not twice, but more than half a dozen times while I was on the road. I “settled in” in Fairbanks, AK. I “settled in” at Jentel. I “settled in” in Denali, in the Wallowas, at Weymouth Center. I also raised serious questions about my own motivations and goals of travel, when I reached a point of “failure” and doubt two years into the tour. Likewise, I nearly broke myself in Sitka, AK.

View from the remote house I lived in on Roan Mtn.

The author Rick Bass has written that it’s possible to love a place so much it hijacks your sense of peace. I felt that when I was care-taking an epic 2700-square-foot house that I had to hike 1/2 mile to get to…back in 2009…right before I put my life on the road. At times, I loved that life so much, it felt terrifying to imagine living any other way. That terror is what Bass was getting at when he mentioned having your sense of peace hijacked. When I left Roan Mountain, I knew I had to go far. I had to find a way to make sure my sense of peace was deeply rooted in place but not hijacked by a single, specific set of criteria. While I tried on all kinds of cities and schools and mountain ranges to “settle in,” all along it was of course myself I was settling into the most. Painful as it was to say so many goodbyes, I learned to carry my home with me wherever I went, and even more so I learned that home is not physically what you can hold, but mentally and spiritually what you can open up to…no matter where you are.

As I write this, the dog is asleep on his mat at the edge of the couch. His breathing is a metronome for my words; deep, satisfying, throaty breaths that call to mind security, home, contentment. Now, “settling in” looks like this: a fearless, elated investment. In a people. In a landscape. In the unquantifiable possibilities of whatever the next day brings. 

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