Since I first left home shortly after graduating High School I have always been a bit of a drifter...
I have lived in 17 different houses or apartments since I was 18. Moving, to me, was a bit of an adventure. Even if it was just across town it always gave me a sense of starting over. Moving to a new city was always the first page of a new chapter in my life.
I moved to my current town almost nine years ago. At the time I was on a path towards working in the vineyards somewhere on the West Coast. I had begun in the wine business at the retail level when I got the chance to manage a wine shop in Montana. From there I had planned on working in distribution and then gaining employment at a winery where I would learn the art of viticulture.
However, those plans changed when I ended up meeting my future wife. She was born and raised in the area, and was a well respected teacher and coach at a school not too far away. It was clear to me that I needed to start planning for my future in Montana.
But the thing about Red Lodge, Montana, is that I didn’t really like living here.
Even though we have a great group of friends, the town itself is beautiful, and there are endless outdoor activities, there are virtually little to no career opportunities here. Red Lodge is a ski town and is known for The Beartooth Highway, a stunning drive over the mountains from Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park. This makes business wildly seasonal and the two main industries are hospitality and healthcare. Add to that the amount of second homeowners in the area (one realtor told me that 40% of homeowners didn’t reside in Red Lodge) and you’ve got a job market that doesn’t support home ownership.
So for someone interested in upward mobility and compensation based on merit and performance it didn't quite sync. And for years I let that influence my opinion on Red Lodge, which led me to dislike it more with each change in seasons. I let myself believe that the grass would be greener regardless of where I lived, so long as it wasn’t here.
When I started on my journey towards a more grateful life I came across a podcast called “The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live” on The Art of Manliness Podcast (you should really check this out, it is not what you are thinking). This particular episode interviewed Melody Warnick, author of “This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live”. Melody struggled with many of the same feelings I had with the place I lived. She looked at moving as a chance to shed old baggage, and it seemed as if she liked the thought of each place being temporary. She mentioned very specific things a person can do to really start loving the place they lived. A couple of these I had just begun practicing.
Walking Your Neighborhood or Community
I had begun walking more even before listening to this podcast. Not because I wanted to experience my town in a different way, and not for the health benefits, but because we had recently moved to just a few blocks from downtown. Now, our town is pretty small and it was always easy to walk anywhere we wanted, but many times I got caught up in the “busyness” of life and would always put off walking until “next time”.
By living so close to all the amenities walking just became the norm. And it worked. Walking not only reduces stress and lifts your spirits, it slows you down to really start paying attention. I started to remember everything that sold me on moving to Red Lodge to begin with, and that increases slightly with each walk I take.
This one has always been obvious to me. Buying goods from local stores increases your sense of community, builds bonds with local business owners, and increases the viability of your local economy (and on a completely selfish note, it makes you feel really good about spending money). We typically shop locally anyways, but on top of that we really started looking for certain purchases, say a winter coat, locally before going to the city or online. I have also been buying more gift certificates to local restaurants for “thank you’s”.
By buying local, you are figuratively “purchasing” a bit of appreciation for the place you live.
Knowing Your Neighbors
I will have to admit that I haven’t exactly started this one yet, but it is definitely on my list! I am typically pretty introverted around people I don’t know, and it usually takes forced social interactions for me to become comfortable around others (which could be the main reason why most of my friends were previous co-workers). This will certainly be my next step in loving the place I live.
Melody says that this can be the most important part of really loving the place you live. It gives you a sense of community and safety, and overall increases the positive experience you have in your town.
After listening to that podcast I started to take account of everything I really loved about the town.
The people, for the most part, are very kind and very similar to the midwest folk I left behind. My friends, even though we have all started families and spend less time together than just a few years ago, are reliable and fun to be around. And for a small town there are several great places to eat, a movie theater, and all the outdoor activities you could dream about.
I also started analyzing other places that I want to live more critically. Is housing really more affordable? Are there actually more opportunities for my skill set? How long would I be living there before I was wanting to move again? When I really go over everything in my head I realize that I wouldn’t necessarily be happier somewhere else, and that I am actually quite happy where we are living right now.
Perhaps the future has us living back in the city,
or in a hip artsy area where our creativity can really grow. But for now I am back to loving the town that I am living in. I can see the opportunities all around me. And for the first time in a couple of years, I am again blown away by the sheer beauty of the mountains. Every day.