How Heading Outside Helps You Love Where You Live (Melody Warnick)

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Like it or not, sometimes life means relocating to a new place. Moving to an entirely new area far from friends or family can be unsettling no matter who you are. And no matter how great it is there, it’s definitely going to be different from the place you left behind, complete with things that are easy to enjoy and facets that are hard to get used to. In short, change is hard no matter what.

But what if heading outside could help you learn to love the place you live? Melody Warnick is an expert in place attachment, or what makes humans feel connected to specific locations, and she shares with us exactly why heading into nature connects you to the place you’re calling “home.”

Some of the good stuff:

[1:57] Melody Warnick’s favorite outdoor space

[3:21] What is “place attachment?”
[7:51] How she feels about her newish home now

[14:04] Act as if …

[18:29] How going outside helped her like where she lived

[23:51] Does it matter if you’re moving?

[32:27] Was the way the outdoors built a connection to people surprising?

[43:12] How you can increase place attachment by going outside

[48:37] Melody’s favorite and most essential gear

[51:17] Melody’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Visit Melody Warnick’s website

Read Melody Warnick’s book, This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are (affiliate link)

Follow Melody Warnick on Instagram

Follow Melody Warnick on Facebook

Follow Melody Warnick on Twitter

Connect with Melody Warnick on LinedIn

Melody’s favorite outdoor gear: a water bottle (with ice water) and the Libby library app

Melody’s most essential outdoor gear: sunglasses and trail GPS

Register for our newsletter to win a decal:

Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:33

To say that today’s guest had a profound influence on how I’ve tackled life in Alaska since we moved here sight unseen in 2016 would not be an exaggeration. Melody Warnick’s book, This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are, was published and ended up in my home as a review copy almost at the exact same time. We were unpacking the few boxes we moved up here with us. My family and I were used to moving with the Army, but I was dead set on making Alaska home. So hearing advice on just how to do that was exactly what I needed. When I started to work on my Humans Outside project – spending 20 minutes outside every day for a year and seeing what happens when I did that – It was with Melody’s book and project as inspiration. I’m really honored that she’s taking the time to talk to us here today and can’t wait to learn more from her about the role spending time outside has on loving where you live. Melody, welcome to the Humans Outside Podcast.

Melody Warnick 1:43

Thanks so much, Amy. I’m really happy to be here.

AB 1:47

So we like to start our show imagining ourselves having a talk in our guest’s favorite outdoor space – or one of them. So where are we with you today?

MW 1:57

We are going to Pandapas Pond, which is an outdoor space, it’s probably about a 10 minute drive from my home. And as you might imagine, there is a pond there, about an eight acre pond. This is part of the Jefferson National Forest system in southwest Virginia, not far from my home in Blacksburg. And it’s also surrounded by a 17 mile trail system. So this was one of my first outdoor places that I came to when I was new here in Virginia. And it has become a little bit of my outdoor home here. It’s accessible. It’s really lush and green during the summer. The pond is surrounded by rhododendrons and in the fall, it is just this gorgeous golden explosion. And I just love spending time there, it is my peaceful place.

AB 3:04

Wonderful. Well, thanks for bringing us there today. So talk to us first about the idea behind your book, which was really a project for you after a move as well just like I read it after my move, and then talk to us about what place attachment is and what it has to do with learning to love the place you call home.

MW 3:21

Yeah, so I know, like you, maybe even a little less than you. I had moved around a bit as an adult. I had grown up in Southern California and never moved a single time till I went to college, was very stable geographically. And then at the end of college, I got married and my husband and I started moving around. So you know, we moved to Maryland for a job. We moved to Utah for another job. Iowa for grad school. And then we had a brief stint in Austin, Texas for a job, and then finally landed in Blacksburg, Virginia for another job, my husband got hired as a professor at Virginia Tech University. And I kind of hated it here at first. Blacksburg is a town of about 42,000. It’s a college town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southern Virginia, it is a place that a lot of people really love. But when I was new here, I just felt like I did not belong. And it was kind of this thing where every time I moved, I noticed that some places just felt like home a little faster than other places. There were places where it was easy to settle in and there were places where it was a little harder to settle in. And this was definitely one of those hard places. And I think, you know, partly that was just it, you know, you move to a new place you don’t know anyone and it’s always kind of hard. It’s always difficult to find your place in the local society. But in this case, it was also Southern Appalachian, you know, people had strange accents. And we had not been here very long before I was like — well, that did not work out, you know, we, we tried it, it did not work out, we need to move on again. And I knew that I, you know, that wasn’t going to happen, my husband had just started this new job. And we had two kids who were at their new elementary school. And I realized that I needed to learn to be at home here, I wasn’t sure how long we were going to stay. But I knew that for me to feel happy, I needed to settle in and put down roots. So I’ve spent most of my career as a freelance writer. And so I’m used to kind of this thing where when you have a problem, you’re going to talk to an expert about it, you’re going to do a little research and figure out how to solve it.

AB 5:55

Like I am doing with you today.

MW 5:57

Right? Exactly. I mean, it’s a beautiful thing, you just call up someone who knows a little more than you do or something. And, and so that’s kind of what I did. I, you know, one of the great things about being married to professors, you have access to all the academic journals. And so I started, you know, looking through them and trying to figure out, you know, what is it that happens to make people feel like they’re happy in their town, what turns a new place into an actual hometown. And I came across this idea of place attachment, which is a term that scientists and psychologists and sociologists use to describe the feeling of being at home in a place, it’s kind of the feeling of being in love with the town where you’re living, just really feeling deeply connected to it. And I was like — okay, that is it. That’s, that’s what I need to feel. And then it became a matter of — Okay, what do I need to do to feel that? I learned pretty quickly that place attachment is something that sort of slowly develops over time, it tends to peak three to five years after you move to a new place, but I was in year one, and was like — no, I, I’m not going to wait that long. I’m not going to be miserable this whole time. What can I do to change my feelings about Blacksburg? And that led me to concoct these “love where you live” experiments, which were, you know, little micro behavior changes that I could make, that were designed to make me fall in love with Blacksburg and feel more at home in it.

AB 7:44

So do you? Are you in love with Blacksburg still? I mean, it’s been a while since we last talked about this.

MW 7:51

Yeah. So yes, the spoiler alert, no one has to actually read my book. I have been here eight years now. And I love it. So you know, this is the longest place I’ve lived in, in my marriage – for my husband, it’s his longest place ever. And a couple years ago, we built a house and moved into it. And we’re just happy here. And that was kind of a new thing. I think, you know, for the first 13 years of our marriage, when we were moving around a lot, there were definitely places that we enjoyed living, but we always felt temporary there. You know, we always knew that no matter how much we liked it, we weren’t going to stay, we were definitely going to move on. And this is the first place we’ve lived where we have the opportunity to stay if we want, you know, jobs and things have aligned to allow us to make that choice. We don’t really have interest in moving on. We kind of made this commitment early on that, if possible, we wanted to get our daughters through high school here. You know, my husband had a pretty mobile childhood and attended, you know, two different high schools. And we thought, you know, it can be nice for kids if they can stay in the same place. And so that was that was what we were going for, and we haven’t quite achieved it. We have one daughter who graduated, but we also have an eighth grade daughter. So we have a few years to go till we get her out of school. But as I think about you know, it used to be my pastime to just kind of fantasize about where am I going to move next you know, what’s, what’s the best city what what places calling my name, whenever we went on vacation, I would pick up the little real estate guides that they have for free in the gas station and I’d just concoct this fantasy life around what it might be like to live here and I do that a lot less now. I won’t say that I don’t do it at all. I think there’s still, you know, some pleasure to be had and just looking at real estate in Indianapolis or whatever, just for fun. But when I think you know, really — okay, like, in four or five more years, are we going to move? I don’t want to and it’s weird. So yes, I am, I am genuinely actually place attachedand the things I did worked.

AB 10:26

So I have to go back and defend your book. Two things. One of the reasons I loved your book, and this is what we talked about when I originally I spoke with you back in 2016, is that I do a lot of work with the military community. And I thought that it was just such good advice for military members and their spouses who do have this very mobile lifestyle, whether they necessarily like a place or not, right, you’re probably going to move, especially if you do like it, it’s just how the world works, you’ll definitely leave if you love it. But I just thought it was such good advice. Because for a lot of military spouses, it’s, you know, it’s like not necessarily about liking where you live so much as finding the good and making it work while you’re there. And that even if you don’t end up loving where you live, based off of the action, and the steps you have in your book, you’ll probably end up liking it more than you did to start with.

MW 11:26

You may not know how long you’re going to be in a place. And you know, realistically, not every place is a great fit for you. You know, like if you’re someone who loves the outdoors, and you love nature, and you’re in the middle of a huge city, like maybe it’s just never going to quite feel super homey to you. One of the pieces of advice in the book that I really loved came from a military spouse, it was my friend Jen Golan. And, and I talked to her about this because I knew she had a lot of experience moving around. And she said the thing that she tried to do, the motto that she lived by was, “unpack your suitcase.” And you know, of course, that is literal, you know, like hang your pictures and arrange your space. So that you it is your space. But also, it’s this metaphor for you know, no matter where you are, or how long you think you’ll be there, settle in, become part of the community, do the work, and it is work sometimes of trying to belong here.

AB 12:34

Absolutely. And then the second reason I think everyone should read this is because I think even if you’re not a military spouse, it’s very, very good advice that you have in there. And again, actionable steps – can anyone tell that I’m a fan of those – that on, on how to really hunt for the good in a community, whether it is exactly what fits you or not, you know, on that first, on that first glance. And I certainly instituted you know, even before my outdoor challenge, all of the things that you talked about in there, you know, from finding a place to you know, talk about finding sort of that third place to hang out, you know, to volunteering and all of those different kinds of things. And I can honestly say that we love where we live, and we love this small town that we live in. Now, you know, but that would have been true without trying those things. Maybe it’s basically Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. I mean, it’s just like with more snow with more snow. And we have I mean, they have the festivals we have Friday flings on Friday in the summer, because you know, it’s Friday, and, and three parades a year that are basically identical, but just on different dates, and one of them’s in the dark. And that’s it’s just this great little town and I just I love the people and I love it. But, you know, I think I accelerated my timeline on that by trying the things you suggested. So thank you very much for those.

MW 14:04

Well, thanks, Amy. That is lovely to hear. And I think you know, in some ways it comes down to your desire to fit in here you know, the fact that you’re engaging in this practice of like you said, looking for the good in your community, trying to find your place in it, making connections and relationships shows that you wanted this for yourself. And so you know, it does come a little easier, but I think a lot of how we feel about our place comes from our behaviors in our place. And so if we act like someone who is placed attached, someone who loves their community, the feelings tend to follow even if they weren’t there originally.

AB 14:50

Absolutely; and I confess to being an optimist sometimes like often to a fault. So I will like this. Gosh, darn it.

MW 14:59

I think that’s healthy. You’re just fine Amy.

AB 15:06

One of the things you talk about,and this is why this is so pertinent to what we do here on the Humans Outside Podcast, is using nature as a way to love where you live. So you tried this, what did that look like specifically for you?

MW 18:26

So let me back up a little and say that you know, when I first came to Blacksburg I was struggling with it and feeling like it didn’t really fit me. Part of the problem almost immediately was that the nature around here just wasn’t my thing. I remember this day I was at a book club with some girlfriends and someone asked the question, you know — what’s your favorite kind of nature? And everyone went around the room. You know, I love the beach. I love the California coastline. I love the mountains. And it was kind of amazing how personal and intimate and almost inexplicable some of those things were. You know, sometimes it was based on where you lived as a child and sometimes it was just some It was like a taste you had developed over your life. And my taste in nature ran a little more towards flatlands, towards you know, grassy plains. I spent six years in Iowa and I really liked that and when we moved here, we are in the Appalachian Mountains basically and so it’s not huge mountains like the Rockies, but it’s very hilly and and very lush and green. And so I remember rolling into town, we had driven through West Virginia, we’re coming into Blacksburg; it was July and I just did not like the look of it. You know, there was something about nature here, just how this place and its surroundings looked, that wasn’t hitting me quite right. I think in the book I described, you know, this feeling of it was sort of this ominous Grimms’ Fairy Tale forest lurking everywhere. And, and that really led to my emotional struggle with the place when I first got here.

And so as I did with all the love where you live experiments, I kind of, you know, figured out based on research, and sometimes based on anecdotes, what are the kinds of things that make people feel place attached, and then I would extrapolate some sort of behavior that I could do to make myself have that experience. So there is a lot of research that shows that nature is important to place attachment. There’s lots of evidence that spending time in nature is great for your health and your well being. But that really it is, it is kind of the most elemental way we experience our place is by getting out in its nature. This is your town before people built houses here or before there was even a town here; this is what it looked like. And it feels really important to love that about your community; to love the kind of nature and the kind of natural beauty that it offers. So for me coming into this with sort of a bias against it, I knew I had to change that. And the way I did that, the Love Where You Live experiment that I embarked on, was just getting out in it. And we live in a place where the Appalachian Trail runs a few miles from here, excuse me, the Blue Ridge Parkway is near here, there’s a lot of hiking, this is a place where a lot of people come to hike. And so that’s what I started doing. Just started taking hikes with friends, with family. One of the first places I went was Pandapas Pond, which I mentioned. But also our local community was sponsoring kind of this enticement for people to get outside, called the Scenic Seven. And they highlighted seven trails locally. And you know, if you hike all seven trails, you get a T-shirt. So some friends and I decided that we were going to do this and you know, a few big groups of us would go on hikes with our kids. And there was something about having that experience with other people in nature that changed my feeling about the value I was ascribing to this place, you know, that hadn’t instantly appealed to me. But now I had created happy memories there. You know, like, it wasn’t just this scary Grimms’ Fairy Tale forest, it was, you know, the place where we have that funny experience walking through the cow pasture, or, you know, where we waded in the stream. And so all those experiences in nature created place attachment, and they helped me feel better about my town.

AB 23:42

Do you think that the fact that you were moving during those was important? Instead of just like, I don’t know, sitting still?

MW 23:51

That’s a great question. And one that I haven’t ever thought about. But yeah, for sure. That the fact that you’re being active, that you’re, you know, doing something really physical, and it’s something that feels really positive. I mean, it doesn’t always feel positive when you’re on the uphill of, you know, a huge hike. But it is definitely creating an experiential memory that feels more powerful than just, you know, sitting in your house, it’s something different from how you spend most of your time. And also the fact that it was social, I think, really helped embed it in my sense of place that you know, here’s something that I’m doing with other people. So I’m building relationships, which is also a huge factor in place attachment, while I’m building an appreciation for the beauty of my place and, and also for what it offers me one of the parts, you know, kind of an element of place attachment is something called place dependence. And it’s this idea that people like places or feel more deeply attached to them when the thing that they like to do, or the thing that they need to do is reliant on this place. So you know, in a very basic way that’s like a farmer will have a place dependence for his farm. So his attachment will run really deep. But it’s also something like if you’re a skier, you might feel a sense of place dependence for the place where you always go skiing. Or if you’re a surfer, you’ll, you’ll feel a greater sense of attachment independence for, you know, the beach near where you live. And so I think the more time we spend in nature, you know, being physically active doing something constructive, the more we have a sense of — I need this place, I need something like Pandapas Pond so I can do the thing that I like, and it’s enjoyable for me.

AB 25:54

So that’s, that’s really interesting juxtaposed to what you said earlier about the nature in and around Blacksburg not being the nature that you were drawn to initially. So essentially, like you learned to like this stuff, while doing it, and therefore felt an attachment to the place because of the thing that you now liked. Am I accurate in that?

MW 26:16

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, like, and that’s the funny thing is like, I am not a super outdoorsy person, or I wouldn’t have ever built myself that way. I’m not really athletic. But I have kind of trained myself to like this one thing. And, and it was really an extension of — Okay, this is a thing that a lot of people here are into, you know, there’s a lot of hiking trails around here, people come from across the country to hike the Appalachian Trail near here. And if I want to feel connected to my community, I need to make this a part of my life too. I did that with some other things as well. You know, living in a college town, college football, and tailgating is a really big thing here. And I totally hate football. Couldn’t care less. I don’t understand it. And yeah, I had this sense that if I wanted to be a true, you know, a true Blacksburg resident, I would kind of need to embrace college football. And so I started, you know, going to a couple football games every season and I still don’t understand it. You know, I’m still confused by what’s going on. And yeah, I’ve learned to love aspects of it. You know, we do this thing, the football team runs onto the football field, to the tune of Enter Sandman, they blast Enter Sandman and everyone in the stadium jumps up and down. And I can hear Enter Sandman now. And it’ll bring tears to my eyes because of you know, this association with, you know, like these nice experiences that I relate to my community. And so I trained myself in that same way to really enjoy hiking and I think of it as the thing I do with my really good friends. I have a lot of friends who are into it, and we’ll go hiking together in small groups. Some of my best conversations have happened on hikes. I have made myself love it. And as a byproduct, I’ve loved the nature and the trails that allow me to do that here.

AB 28:43

Two things. One, you said you’re not outdoorsy, but that sounds outdoorsy to me. And two big, big sympathy, empathy. And I hear you on the football team. You said to be a Blacksburg resident you have to embrace the football. To be a resident of my house you have to do that. So you’re not really allowed to live here unless you are appreciative of the Ohio State University.

MW 29:13

You kind of see how you do that in various parts of your life. Like there are things that you know, maybe I would not naturally gravitate toward, but when you do it long enough, you forget that it wasn’t your first impulse to embrace it, and you just start doing it. And yeah, I think as a kid growing up, I was always like – hiking? You know, my family didn’t do much of that. So it was always just this thing I felt like I wasn’t very good at or it felt like some monumental thing and, and the more I do it now, the more I embrace it as part of my identity and part of my place identity too. It’s interesting because for a long time, even after we moved here, I always thought of hiking as something you do with other people, you know, this is a social event, you go with friends, or, you know, I would go with my teenage daughter. And, you know, I would never go alone. Well, my teenage daughter, ie the only one of my daughters who likes to hike, graduated and moved away. And it was kind of like — okay, also, we’re in a pandemic. So either I’m doing this by myself, or I’m never doing it again. And I, you know, just this fall really is when I decided that this was something that I was allowed to do alone. And it’s taken my love of the outdoors to a new level. I really like the social aspect of hiking. I like getting out there with friends or with my daughter, and having good conversations. There’s something about being, you know, outside that fosters that. But hiking on my own is a totally different experience, and also amazing in its own way of, you know, being able to go to my own pace and appreciate the beauty a little more, because I’m moving a little slower, or I can stop and you know, it’s just, it’s been different, but really great.

AB 31:25

I’m on record, making sweeping dramatic statements about things I’ll never do. And then you know, having to eat my words later. So I should probably stop making those big, big proclamations that I will never be skiing, or you know, anything like that.

So you talked a little bit about the connection to people that builds when you’re outside, and then the connection to yourself. So I want to sort of split those things a little bit more. First, the connection to people, I personally find that that’s true that some of my best friends are our friends that I’ve had experiences with outdoors. I think that’s true for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is amount of time, like, you’re just gather a lot. But I’m wondering if but it also seems a little counterintuitive. So I’m wondering if you think that’s true. And if that connection, and that building of connection to people surprised you?

MW 32:27

Well, you mentioned movement, before, you know, you asked whether just the fact of being in motion helped, you know, helped create those fond feelings or helped to build place attachment. I think that is particularly healthy for relationships, like, you know, a piece of parenting advice I’ve heard is — if you have to have a meaningful, you know, quote, unquote, conversation with your child, don’t do it staring at each other across a table, do it when you’re facing the same direction. And ideally, when you’re in motion. So I found for me as my daughters get older, that the best place to have a deep conversation is when you’re walking or when you’re hiking, because there’s something about the fact that you’re doing an activity together. You know, you’re both working in a small way. And you’re moving with the same goal, you know, the end of the hike or whatever. There’s something about that, that fosters communication. And so I, you know, I don’t think it’s an accident that when we think about our friends, and really great conversations, we’ve had a lot of those, for me, have happened outside hiking, or you know, even just like taking a walk in my neighborhood, but particularly being out on on a good old fashioned hike. So I think, you know, time spent together is part of that. But I think there’s something about just moving through the space together and, you know, collectively encountering things that are challenging or unusual in some way. I wrote in the book, you know, I mentioned earlier, the Scenic Seven challenge, and one of the hikes that we were supposed to do was on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is about a 40 minute drive from my house. I went out there with a friend, we brought our kids. So together, we had six kids who were all, you know, under 12 or so. And we got kind of lost and it was a weird trail that went through a cow pasture at one point, you know, we were so confused, like — Are we really going through this cow pasture? And it started to rain on us. And, you know, on paper, it was sort of this disaster of an experience and yet the fact that we had a disaster together means it’s this great story that you get to tell. And you know, I think a lot of outdoor experiences are probably at that level, you know, like, was not fun in the moment, but it’s amazing to remember. And so type two fun, right is extra, another level of fun, fun in the memory. And, and so I think nature puts us in those situations where that’s happening to us and that fosters community.

AB 35:33

And then you talked about doing nature now alone. So I’m wondering, are you someone who usually likes to be alone?

MW 35:44

I am definitely an introvert. I am someone who likes alone time and I, you know, I’m happy to spend time with other people. I’m not like, pathological about it or anything. But yeah, it kind of surprised me doing doing this alone, because I, I think I had built it up too much that hiking is an event, you know, it’s something you schedule something, you invite all your friends, you need to plan for this in advance, you need to pack a lot of stuff, you need to have a backpack with snacks and water, and is this big deal. And, and it’s recently in, you know, just in the past few months, or this fall, where I’m like, it’s not a big deal. And, you know, I usually take a walk every day, but typically, you know, just in my town, in the streets near my house. And this fall, when I had some time to take a walk, I would just drive up to Pandapas Pond, and I would, that was where my walk was. And there is a difference between walking in your neighborhood and walking in nature, I think, you know, I have a whole chapter in the book about walking, and how valuable that is to place attachment that when you’re new to a place, walking helps you create mental maps that help you feel, it helps you locate yourself in space, you know, just the the simple matter of knowing how to get from point A to point B, comes a lot easier when you walk because you’re going at human speed, you’re moving just a little slower than you do in a car. It helps you notice things. You’re observing the houses that are going past, people’s yards, you have opportunities for connection, you know, because you’re passing people on the street and all that is really valuable. But doing it in nature, it feels more meditative doing it by myself than doing it with other people. I felt more appreciative of the beauty of felt healing, in a way. You know, this was the fall of 2020, when we’re, you know, in the depths of COVID. And just a lot of chaos and craziness happening. And it felt really good to remove myself from that for a little bit and just have a moment of peace.

AB 38:26

You also, if I remember correctly, have a chapter on connecting to the history of where you live. Am I making that up? That’s a thing in your book?

MW 38:34

It wasn’t a whole chapter, it was a section of a chapter, I think, I guess I did talk about it.

AB 38:41

I find that spending time outside also connects me to that in a sort of unique way. I have this memory of walking through Prince William Forest, national forest in Virginia, just during a visit and sort of happening upon a trail and a sign that said something to the effect of “George Washington was here,” okay. And thinking like — well, hot dog, if I hadn’t come down this little dinky trail, you know, on like this, you know, break during this trip I had, I would have never found this or known it was here. And I have that experience here all the time. You know, if I hadn’t walked through this trail, you know, and taking the time to come down here, I would have never seen this piece of history and known this thing. You know, whether that’s just, you know, an abandoned cabin or whatever, right. And there are a lot of those here, by the way, and they may not be that old because things really sort of deteriorate quickly in Alaska. I came across this — wow, this must be so old! And then I realized — no, it’s like, deteriorating indoor plumbing. So not that old. But anyway, I find that I feel an attachment to where I live because I understand the history, in a way I would not understand if I was just to read a book, or go to the museum. Do you find that to be true?

MW 40:09

Yeah, absolutely. One of the stories I talked about in the book is, I talked to a guy in North Carolina who developed these, he called them walker city signs. And they were signs that he put up, he did this in Raleigh, and then made it available to people in other cities that just encourage people to go places on foot. So the signs would say something like — it’s 15 minutes to you know, such and such park. And, you know, the idea was just reminding people, you, you actually can get places on foot. And so I, as an experiment, I did that here in Blacksburg. I put up a couple signs, and one of the signs that I put up was — it’s a five minute walk to Westview Cemetery. And it was, you know, kind of this historical place has some Confederate headstones and things. And I had never been there myself, I was putting up the signs, instructing people to walk there and had never done it. And so as I put up this one — I’m like, okay, the hypocrisy, you know, I can cut it with a knife. So I’m actually going to do this. I walked up the street and went to the cemetery. And, you know, wandered through the gravestones, which is, you know, its own interesting kind of experience. But yeah, it was, it was someplace I never would have stopped in a car, you know, I wouldn’t have chosen it as a destination — we are going to the local cemetery to explore it! But when you’re on foot, I think there’s always this sense of discovery. You know, like, I get so super excited when I go down a street, and I’m like — dude, I did not know this was here, you know, like this, this cul de sac back here. It’s amazing to me, I stumbled on a little walking path over at Virginia Tech University and followed it kind of going — you know, I’m not sure if this is going to lead anywhere, but I’ll see. And it led past another cemetery that is just randomly on the grounds of the university, but you can’t get close to it unless you’re on foot, and then wound to this place called Smithfield Plantation, that’s one of the original homes that was settled in the area. And again, you know, I wouldn’t have chosen these spots as a destination wouldn’t have necessarily been able to get to them if I’d been in a car, but on foot, there’s just this sense of — I wonder what’s around the corner. And you know, whether it’s a piece of local history or just a bit of nature that you haven’t seen before. I love that feeling of wanting to see what’s coming next.

AB 43:02

Yeah. Can you offer two or three tips to people who want to increase their place attachment by spending time outside but don’t know where to start?

MW 43:12

Yeah, absolutely. So at the end of every chapter in the book I actually include, I’m going to open it up. So if you hear book noises, that’s what’s going on. I included something that I called a Love Your City Checklist. And these are, you know, speaking of actionable, these are actionable ideas that anyone can do where they live. So here’s some of the ideas that I included in the Love Your City Checklist that goes along with the chapter about spending time in nature.

Make a list of your town’s natural assets. So this is sort of an exercise in thinking about what your town or you know, or the area around your town has to offer. Whether that’s hikes or parks, or gardens, sometimes just looking at Google Maps will help you discover places that you haven’t experienced before. Learn the names of the flora and fauna in your area, it really can change dramatically from place to place, and there’s something for me about being able to point to a bush and say that’s a Rhododendron. That is really empowering. It feels like I know about nature here. So, you know, that might be spending time with the master naturalist in your area or just buying a guidebook to, you know, plants and animals where you live. But I think you know, having a couple of those in your back pocket, knowing the most common kinds of trees or flowers or whatever, can make you feel more attached. And, you know, one thing that I always tell people, especially people who are moving a lot, is find a way to do this thing you love in your new community. And that can be a lot of things. But if you are a person who likes spending time outdoors, as I assume most of your podcast listeners are, figure out where you can do that here, you know where you are now. So, if you like to bike, find, find the bike path nearby, or if you like to spend time in water, and you just had to leave the beach behind, and you’re really sad about it, you know, find find a river or a lake that can maybe, you know, quench that thirst for you in some way. One thing that I talked about in the book chapter is when people are placed attached studies show that they’re more likely to engage in environmentally responsible behaviors, because when you have a place that you love, you want it to last. You want it to look good, you want to take care of it. And so, you know, in the general idea of these Love Where You Live experiments being engaged in the behavior, the emotion will follow, I would recommend to people to do some of those eco friendly behaviors like picking up trash or recycling or you know, turning off the water, you know, miraculously remembering to bring your reusable shopping bags to the market. Because that small effort is showing you value this place and you want it to be okay. is a way to build place attachment.

AB 46:38

Oh, so good. Those are such good tips. Thank you so much.

So we’ve gotten to the part of our show where we talk about just some leftovers, just some stuff I like to know. So on the theme of going outside in your hiking adventures and other adventures around Blacksburg, what is you know, you said you don’t need all this gear, but maybe talk to us about some gear anyway.

MW 47:01

Like — you must mention gear!

AB 47:04

We all know that good snacks or your favorite shoes or something make it just right, so what is your favorite thing?

MW 47:12

So I’m gonna give you the real gear-y sort of answer and then kind of the maybe what will feel like a cop out answer, but is actually probably most important to me. So like a lot of people I really like Hydroflask. I really love ice. Having a water bottle that will keep my ice cubes intact adds a lot of enjoyment to my hiking experience. I

AB 47:41

I don’t think that’s a copout.

MW 47:43

Yeah, well, here is the copout answer. That was like an actual physical item. But the copout answer is the Libby library app or the Overcast app to listen to podcasts. When I started hiking alone more often, in in the fall, that’s what I do is put in, you know, a pair of earbuds and listen to books or podcasts as I as I hiked, you know, which isn’t always great, I would sometimes turn them off just so I could like, listen to the sounds listen to the birds listen to the leaves crunch under my feet. But if you have, you know, an hour and a half that you’ve dedicated to hiking, it’s really nice to like, zoom through a book when you’re out there. And so these apps have made it possible.

AB 48:37

Also not a copout. I’m like your outdoor priest, you’re forgiven, it’s fine. Yeah, I will say that I do that too. I play them out out loud. Which, hot tip for folks, don’t do that if there’s like a lot of people on the trail because it can be really annoying. Nobody wants to listen to your book, okay? But if you’re by yourself, and the other people on the trail aren’t people, they’re bears, it’s a great way to keep the bears away. You’re supposed to make a lot of noise. But that can be really hard to do if you’re by yourself. And at some point, you’ve already sung all the Disney songs ever out loud that you can remember the words do. So now is a great time to let someone else do the talking in the book.

MW 49:20

So that is a hot tip for your safety.

AB 49:24

Yeah, you gotta do what you got to do depending on where you live. So there you go. And although I do joke, you know, now we’re gonna get one of my corny jokes. Okay, I joke that if you want the bears to attack you, you can play Nickelback, and they’ll attack.

MW 49:40

The bears are like — make it stop!

AB 49:43

That’s a free tip. Okay, free joke. Anyway, all right. Do you have a piece of gear that you consider your most essential that’s outside of those two things?

MW 49:51

Okay, so once again, I’m going to do like a physical object and a non physical object. So my most essential piece of gear is sunglasses. And I don’t even have favorites. I buy like cheap $12 sunglasses from Loft, usually. But I cannot spend any amount of time outside without sunglasses. So those are a must have. And then the digital item that I find essential is the All Trails app. So a couple months ago, I went on a hike with some friends and our kids. And we got totally lost. And it was super, super weird. It was an in and out trail. And we thought, but somewhere on the way back, we veered away and we got lost in the woods and a friend had this app on her phone and it saved our bacon by just letting us know that we were headed generally in the right direction. So I rely on that.

AB 50:57

Yeah. I mean, it’s important to know where you are.

MW 51:00

That’s helpful.

AB 51:03

I call that essential. I think you’re safe. Yeah. All right. Finally, if you would leave us with your favorite outdoor moment ever, if you close your eyes, and just picture that ideal moment, where are you? And what are you doing?

MW 51:17

So one of the things that I didn’t write about the book, but was kind of integral to my feeling place attached to nature around here was – I volunteer with a camp for teenage girls that’s run through my church. You know, one week of summer, we spend a week in an old Boy Scout camp in Bastion, Virginia, and I have this memory of you know, the camp sits on flatland and kind of a bowl of mountains. And one night, we had an activity where all the girls, you know, there’s like 80 teenagers and adults we all gathered out in the field. And it was this beautiful night with a full moon rising over the mountains. And we just sat out there and sang songs, you know, with our flashlights. And I think that is just a beautiful example of what it can feel like when you’re spending time in nature in a place that you love or are trying to love, coming to love with people that you enjoy. It feels really pure and holy in a way and it’s just a memory that brings me joy to think about it.

AB 52:40

Thank you so much for being on Humans Outside Podcast today. We appreciate you.

MW 52:45

It was such a pleasure. Thanks so much for inviting me.

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