Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
Do you love — I mean LOVE — where you live? And did you know spending time outside where you live can make you love it more?
As summer wraps up in Alaska, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Luke’s parents have been visiting us, which means we’re in full show-off Alaska mode. Have you met my boyfriend, Alaska summer? He’s the greatest.
When we fled the lower-48 to come here in 2016 it was, in part, because I couldn’t stand to live in Clarksville, Tenn. anymore. There were just too many traumatic memories. But what I didn’t hate about Clarksville was Clarksville itself. I kind of loved the area — but that wasn’t always the case. I completely HATED the area until we started doing things like kayaking the Red River down to Billy Dunlop Park, or camping out at Land Between the Lakes. Really, it was the days and nights camping at Redd Hallow that made me love the area. It was my local happy place. It helped me make peace with Clarksville while it was home. And attending outdoor pickin’ parties at a local distillery helped me appreciate the rolling farm fields in the same way cycling through them did.
When we picked Palmer, Alaska as our new home, we had never before even visited the state, forget the town. Someone had told me it was cute. That’s why we picked it over other towns in the area. That’s why we bought a home here.
And it IS cute. But if I had never started spending time outside, I would’ve completely missed its charm. That’s because it was by spending time outside that I learned to enjoy it in ALL of its versions. In the winter I have seen the hoar frost on the trees and the snow capped mountains. I have seen how the stars shine in the deep December darkness. I have seen how the people of this place come out no matter the weather to love nature here in all of its versions.
And because I have spent time outside in this place, I have seen the way the people in it come together to make it somewhere worth living. They celebrate each other in the way small communities all over do.
I’ve also noticed a sense of community here that I never saw in the many other places I’ve lived – Washington, Virginia, Maryland, California, Michigan, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Maybe it’s because the remote nature of Alaska and that pioneer spirit that lingers helps you know just how reliant on your nearby neighbors you really are. Maybe it’s the long, dark, harsh winters. Or maybe it’s that I never spent enough time outside in my previous homes to notice the way the communities behave, and this thing I see here is how it is everywhere. Regardless, it’s a special feeling of neighbor helping neighbor, a pervasive current of kindness — and all of it centered around the rhythm of the seasons.
This past week was the start of the annual Alaska State Fair and yet another great chance to see this community spirit in action. My little town is the host of the fair and its corresponding state fair parade. When someone asked for volunteers to march in the parade with few visiting fair acts, I immediately volunteered — and of course got my hot dog costume out for the occasion. Marching in the fair parade is only more fun if you’re dressed like a hot dog. Then, after the parade, we hopped in the car and went to the fair, of course, visiting the local artists who make so much of their annual income through their fair booths, and of course stopping at my favorite cookie stand.
To me, this is all just a chance to see the best of where I live proudly on display, and remember why I love it so much. But if I had never ventured out of my house to do things outside every day, I never would’ve found myself looking for outdoor activities in my little town, and I never would’ve met any of these people or been connected with the person who was looking for fair parade volunteers. Sure, I spend my outside time on trails or otherwise in nature — but every day is a lot of outdoor time, and so the logical thing to do is hunt around a little for a variety of activities in your community.
And THAT is how you get connected to the place you live — you meet like-minded people who are hunting to do the same. You see parts of your community and the people who are in it that make it wonderful. You witness what they do when someone needs help, and you jump in to help, too. All of these things build a sense of place and belonging, and all of them help you like where you live.
The key? Just stepping out your front door and heading outside in your town. Give it a try. And report back on whether it worked.
I’m not the only person who has seen that spending time outside helps you love where you live. One of our past podcast guests Melody Warnick, has written a book – This Is Where You Belong, Finding Home Wherever You Are – about loving where you live. If you want to learn more ways to love where you live you should definitely check out her book.
You can see all of my adventures in and around my small town — including plenty of state fair time and a photo of me in my glorious hot dog costume — on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. Until next time, I’ll see you out there.