In June 2011, I embarked on a year-long project that would bring me back to each of my hometowns to learn more about the places I’d lived. There were many that had shaped me — from Montreal and Toronto to San Francisco and New York — and I wanted to get a good feel for their geography, their people, their neighborhoods and their pulses. I also wanted to examine, broadly speaking, why people live where they do and what makes a place feel like home. With ample vacation days, multiple frequent flyer tickets, many tanks of gas, several bicycles, and a few good pairs of walking shoes, I covered extensive ground in twelve months. The project, documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.
The study came full circle a year later, ending up where it started on a Virginia vineyard. And so with the advent of summer comes an opportunity to revisit the year I spent traveling back to my former neighborhoods. I’ve come miles from one year ago, and I’ve logged all of them in hopes of better understanding the places we called home.
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
A YEAR OF TRAVEL
The project began in June with a wedding in Irvington, Virginia and a honeymoon in Greece. In turn, July, August and most of were spent closer to home, getting to know better than ever our current city of Washington, DC, and occasionally venturing across the Potomac to Arlington, where I lived as a child.
On the last day of September, we returned to Chicago, where I lived as a graduate student, kicking off an autumn that would involve many more travels back home. October brought a quick road trip up to Baltimore, where I lived throughout elementary school. November was marked by travels to see family in New York, where I went to college, in Boston, where my husband grew up, and in Connecticut, where my parents still live.
After Christmas in Southport, I began venturing back to the hometowns that are no longer part of my regular repertoire. A December trip to Montreal with my parents just before New Year’s marked the first time in fifteen years I’d been back to the city of my birth. A January trip to St. Louis with my mother was the first time we’d sought out the old street since moving away as a toddler.
In February, my husband and I returned to San Francisco, where I lived just after college. In March, we returned to New York to celebrate a friend’s birthday. In April, we revisited Annapolis, a town we recently called home for one short year. In May, we trekked back up the I-95 corridor to a high school reunion in Connecticut. In June, I both returned to Baltimore and met my mother at the airport in Toronto, the only time I’d been there since leaving the city some 30 years ago.
A SENSE OF BELONGING
A refreshing result of the project was that no place felt foreign. In nearly every single former hometown, we were welcomed by family and longtime friends; in some we even ran into old neighbors and the stories picked right back up again. As nomadic as those of us who move so often may be, we have roots everywhere we have lived.
There were a few short-lived homes I never made it back to: I never returned to Australia, where I lived for a semester of college, but instead dedicated a week on the blog to memories of the Land Down Under. I didn’t make it back to Jackson, Wyoming, where I lived for a short summer during college, but instead created regular feature posts dedicated to Jackson and the other places farther afield that have become a part of my story.
Somehow during the course of this busy year, we made a couple of other trips, too: We managed to visit a few places that were not part of our own narrative, but rather meaningful places that played a leading role in the stories of others. There was a road trip up to the coast of New Jersey, a drive down country roads to Charlottesville, and a flight up to Long Island to celebrate a wedding in the town where the couple had met. There were interviews with other people, too — a space on the blog to hear from residents invested in their neighborhoods because they simply and wholeheartedly love where they live. That was one of my favorite parts.
The project included countless mornings and evenings spent walking and biking, drilling down through these neighborhoods and streets where I grew up and making mental maps of the places I’d lived. The rhythms of places like Armitage and Overlee, Green St. and Greene Ave., Polk St. and Barracks Row have stuck with me. I’ll bring them with me everywhere I go.
October 2011, Chicago
October 2011, Baltimore
November 2011, New York City
November 2011, Southport, CT
December 2011, Montreal
January 2012, St. Louis
February 2012, San Francisco
April 2012, Annapolis, Maryland
May 2012, Washington, DC
June 2012, Toronto
Originally published June 19, 2012.