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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