Miles From Monday: Virginia Vineyards

Sharp Rock, Sperryville, VASeptember 3, 2012, Washington, DC: There’s not a single stoplight in all of Rappahannock County, Jim tells us as we finish our $4 wine tastings in the barn at Sharp Rock Vineyards. There’s also a zoning law that protects the county from the dreaded sprawl and subdivisions, he explains: Just one new dwelling is permitted on every 25 acres. Even out here near Sperryville, Virginia, people are quick to talk about what makes home special.

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Before I Go on Staycation…

June 21, 2012, Washington, DC: I’m planning to take a little staycation. I’m not going anywhere and I’ll most certainly be back — just taking a brief hiatus from regular blog posts to reflect on this year’s project and collect my thoughts concerning what happens next. New ideas are keeping me up at night and I couldn’t be more excited. I look forward to sharing them with you soon.

Before I go, I invite you to participate here on Neighborhood Nomad. Your stories about why you love where you live are intriguing and inspiring. They reinforce the power of place and they remind us of the extent to which our geography shapes us. Collecting and producing reader interviews has been one of the best parts of this effort so far, and every single one of you has distinctive stories to tell about the rhythms of your home, your neighborhood, your town or your city. Shoot me a note. Tell me more about your hometown.

More to come! As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Miles From One Year Ago…

“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

June 19, 2012, Washington, DC: 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, Neighborhood Nomad, is documented on this blog, derived from a love of travel and a longstanding obsession with the power of place.

The study came full circle this weekend, 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.

Read on for a chronological overview of this year’s travels back home…

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One Year, Ten Photos

Fanari Villas, Oia, Santorini, Greece, June 2011, Photo Credit: Kate Gallery

“It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’”
-Lawrence Durrell

June 15, 2012, Washington, DC: The first entry on this blog is dated June 16, 2011. 365 days ago. In reality, the launch of this year-long project is a little softer than that — the idea had been stewing for months, but was birthed in its current structure just as we kicked off our wedding weekend. The first several entries were scribbled down in a blue plastic notebook bought in a Santorini drugstore on our honeymoon before they went live in the blogosphere.

This weekend, in other words, is a first anniversary celebration in more ways than one.

To mark the milestone, the next few posts will reflect on what’s happened here during the course of the year – beginning with a roundup of ten of my favorite photos that emerged from Neighborhood Nomad: One Year of Travel Through My Many Hometowns. I’ve loved having an excuse this year to lug around my fancy camera, test out new photography apps on the iPhone, and document my surroundings through various lenses. Read more to see a handful of the photos that have made an impression…

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Writing About Place: A Reading List

Books

January 24, 2012, Washington, DC: And then it was everywhere. In every book I opened, every conversation I overheard, every article I read. People were curious about why those around them gravitate to the places they do. Suddenly it was clear I’d been pursuing this independent study for years. While packing and unpacking boxes. While working as a trip leader for a travel company. While studying the sociology and history of cities like New York. While writing essays about my neighborhood from Royal Ground Coffee on Polk Street. Over time, the books piled up, reflective of this narrative I was stringing together. They were reflective of my story.

Lens tightly focused on one subject, the proof bubbles up everywhere. To remind you that it’s a worthy exploration. That it’s a good use of time. That these are good questions.

Read on for my suggested reading list on the power of place and add your suggestions in the comments after the jump.

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Where It’s At: Cities & Change

Lower Saddle, Grand Teton National Park, July 2007

“Why don’t you stay in the wilderness? Because that isn’t where it’s at; it’s back in the city, back in downtown St. Louis, back in Los Angeles. The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in nature enables you to cope more efficiently with the problems of man.”

-Willi Unsoeld, mountaineer

January 11, 2012, Washington, DC: It was from cramped tents and foggy vistas and clear-as-day summits and muddy trails that the power of place first started to get to me. The vast impact of our surroundings was apparent sitting beside a campfire in a hushed forest or paddling a kayak across a still sound at dawn. I fell in love with ideas about place by watching these landscapes where change is glacial.

But the beauty of loving cities, too, is that change here is quick enough to witness it. Urban landscapes and streetscapes evolve in our lifetime and morph into someplace new entirely. More importantly, they do so with input from people who live here and love it. As much as the backcountry speaks to us, we are invested back in our cities and hometowns because not so deep down, change is our thing. We are excited to have a hand in it. We are eager to fix things. To make it work. To step up and participate. To see swift results.

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2011: A Year That Revealed The Power of Place

December 17, 2011, Washington, DC: One year ago today, a young Tunisian man set himself on fire after police seized his vegetable cart, his sole source of income. His fellow Tunisians began the year 2011 incensed over the event and all it reflected about the country’s rampant unemployment. In January, they gathered on Twitter and Facebook, but they also gathered in real live person. They weren’t alone. The reaction was contagious. People emerged from the isolation of their homes and gathered in other places too, demanding jobs, demanding lower food prices, demanding regime change. They gathered in places like Algiers, Algeria and Cairo’s Tahrir Square. By month’s end, Tunisia’s leader Zine el Abidine Ben Ali had left the country. In February, images of celebration burst from Tahrir Square as Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office. In places like Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, like Sanaa, Yemen, like Benghazi, Libya and Daraa, Syria, the drumbeat continued into the spring.

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