Lessons in Living, From the Backcountry

This is  one in a series of interviews featuring people invested in our homes, our neighborhoods and the power of place. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

February 27, 2013, Washington, DC: Making a deliberate decision to change where and how you live can make a world of difference. Campbell Gerrish knows this firsthand, both personally and professionally. We worked together more than decade ago as co-leaders guiding a summer backcountry trip for teenagers throughout British Columbia, hiking long days, pitching  tents, cooking dinner and sleeping soundly in our down sleeping bags. In the mornings, we’d pack up all of our belongings, heave our tents, utensils, clothes, food, pots and pans onto our backs, and move on. All that we needed we carried with us. What we packed in, we packed out.

It was serendipitous that Campbell called a few weeks ago from his home in Bozeman, Montana, the very day after the Traveler of the Year event that had prompted me to so vividly recall that afternoon pictured above in BC’s Stein Valley. Campbell and I hadn’t talked in four years, but as we caught up, it was clear we shared a continuing interest in examining where and how we live, shaped largely by our experiences in wilderness living. Living in a tent in the backcountry with just the bare necessities will change you. It will change the way you think about home and it will remind you that your exterior living space is intricately tied to your inner well being.

“It’s interesting to articulate because it’s such an intuitive thing to me,” Campbell said. “The way we live in our environment reflects our state of mind. So if I live in a room that is covered in tons of crap and I let all my papers pile up, if I live in a space that is cluttered and messy and disorganized, that reflects what I’m like inside. For me, if I let my living space get out of hand, I feel I’m not being disciplined in my thinking, I’ve got some loose ends going on.”

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Designing The Third Place: A Conversation With Two Architects


Photo Credit: Robert Stansell, Emporium Design

This is one in a series of interviews about our neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

February 24, 2013, New York: My friends Robert Stansell and Tim Welsh are two talented architects who spend a lot of time thinking deeply about the power of place. After ten years working in corporate architecture jobs and designing local watering holes together on the side, they recently struck out on their own to open Emporium Design, a design-build firm with projects under its belt including New York City establishments Ella Lounge, The Blind Barber and Gallery Bar. Over the Christmas holiday in New York, I caught up with them for the opening night of their latest creation, Boulton & Watt, a gastropub on the corner of 1st St. and Ave. A on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Robert and Tim are part-owners of the pub alongside partners Darin Rubell, Jaime Felber and chef Dave Rotter. “We love this neighborhood, and we wanted to create a bar we were proud of,” the group declares on its new website. Needless to say, I was intrigued. My fascination with the sociology of the “third place” — those spots in which we congregate beyond home and work — made me want to learn more about the process behind creating one. I believe third places that exude camaraderie and comfort are imperative in strengthening our communities, so I was eager for Robert and Tim to tell me more about what goes into designing and building an aesthetically pleasing gathering spot where the neighbors want to linger as long as possible.

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Love Letter to Home


“My space reflects the life I’ve lived so far, and it’s filled with stuff that has been with me for years, stuff that reminds me of where I’ve traveled, who I’ve loved, and where I want to go next.” -Nate Berkus

February 23, 2013, Washington, DC: Our home reminds me of travel, partly due to the things we’ve brought with us but also due to its bones, its structure and its details. I see New Orleans in the back alley from a narrow, second-story balcony abutting the next and feel cross breezes coming off San Francisco Bay through the high windows that swing open above the apartment’s inner door frames. Its imperfect hardwood floors and outdated stove and big old window that needs a book wedged in to stay open in spring are fit for a beach cottage. Walking out the front door to pick up cheese or yogurt or meat around the corner at Eastern Market is a routine that feels a bit Parisian.

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The Real Reason I Love It Here

culinary crawl 2013, barracks row, washington, dc

February 19, 2013, Washington, DC: It seems somewhat disingenuous to have come this far on Neighborhood Nomads without mentioning one of the main reasons I love living where I do. In truth, it’s the pizza. As someone who could eat pizza seven days a week, living mere blocks from both Matchbox and Seventh Hill, the city’s best pizza joints in my expert opinion, is a definite draw. If ever we move away from here, it’ll be pizza I crave most.

That said, I loved taking these photos at Sunday morning’s pizza class at Matchbox. The class was part of the weekend’s Culinary Crawl, during which the neighborhood was transformed into a cooking school with local chefs convening classes in their restaurants on Barracks Row and in the fabulous teaching kitchen in the nearby Hill Center. I was happy to again document the courses for Barracks Row Main Street (see the rest of my photos on their Picasa page), but mostly I felt lucky to be at Matchbox before 10 a.m. as the group talked pizza, rolled their dough, and flung it high into the air. A camera sprinkled with flour is a sign the day is off to a good start.

matchbox pizza, washington, DC

Is there any food in your neighborhood that you simply can’t live without? Divulge your favorites in the Comments section below.

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Happy Presidents’ Day From Capitol Hill

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013, Washington, DC Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

February 18, 2013, Washington, DC: The Library of Congress is one of those close-to- home landmarks I walk, bike, run and drive around regularly, but I’m ashamed to say I’d never been inside until now. But today the Main Reading Room was open to the public — photographs allowed — and that only happens twice a year, so we walked over, waited in the line and wandered inside. The architecture and history in this neighborhood is truly astounding. Happy Presidents’ Day from Capitol Hill.

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

Library of Congress, President's Day 2013

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Places We Express Ourselves

Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn, Washington, DC

February 11, 2013, Washington, DC: On a trip through the airport this fall, I picked up the magazine Foreign Policy. It’s a publication I rarely read, but this was the Cities Issue, jam packed with articles about the world’s urban landscapes. Statistics about the global population and a piece on “The Rise and Fall and Rise of the New Shanghai” were fascinating, but what resonated most was an interview with Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei. The interview, titled “Twitter is My City”, was striking due to its emphasis on the power of place as it relates to freedom, choice, expression and ownership.

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An Hour To Spare in Dupont Circle

Dolcezza Dupont, Washington, DC

February 5, 2013, Washington, DC: I had an hour or so to spare this evening in Dupont Circle. Instead of returning straight home from work, I walked across the Taft Bridge over Rock Creek Park, wandering south down Connecticut Ave. and settling in for a latte at a large farm table in Dolcezza Dupont. It’s a gift to have an hour to spare in an inviting coffee shop, whether in my own city or one that’s entirely foreign. Even at home, those slow and steady moments make me feel like I’m traveling.

After the sun set, I trekked through Dupont, stopping in out of the D.C. winter for a quick dinner and a peek in Kramerbooks. From there, I made my way south of the circle to National Geographic to attend tonight’s Travelers of the Year event, featuring our own Neighborhood Nomad Booker Mitchell. Booker and three fellow Travelers of the Year gathered in celebration of the very things we value here on Neighborhood Nomads: they spoke of exploration and observation, of seeing their surroundings with fresh eyes. The tagline on the enormous screen behind them read, “These passionate nomads inspire us to take on the world.”

The featured travelers at tonight’s event spoke of their travels far from home: Paula Busey spoke of her lasting friendship with Maasai warrior Samwel Melami in Tanzania; Heather Greenwood Davis of her family’s decision to take her children out of school for a year to trot the globe; Booker of his perspective as a traveling teenager on a skateboard; and Theron Humphrey of his road trip across America photographing the beauty of the everyday. But what I found remarkable was that the conversation repeatedly circled back to thoughts about neighborhood and home, and to the influence that the far and wide can have all that is very close by.

“We really wanted to show these kids that the world was their neighborhood,” Davis said.

“You can be a traveler in your own city, even,” Booker said, returning to a topic we’d discussed together a few months ago. Whether due to taking a new route, noticing a change in the sunlight, or listening to a different song in transit, he added, “Skating to school every morning, nothing’s ever the same.”

Isn’t it interesting how travel enables us to zoom in on the tiniest details and come away with a deeper appreciation of the big picture? Of negatively perceived locales Davis visited along the way, she said: “The closer you get to them, the more you realize that they’re only that frightening from far away.”

That remark seems true of our own neighborhoods as well as the far-flung destinations we visit so rarely. And I could relate to Humphrey when he explained that those close and careful observations collected while traveling have paid off: “I pointed my camera at what I love,” he said. “I fell in love with life this past year.”

The power of place is indeed transformative, whether that place is a remote beach in Costa Rica or a cold and crowded Dupont Circle.

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