People. Place. Occupation.
That’s what makes up a life. It’s what molds our decisions. As a single, recent college graduate, people say I’m lucky to be able to go wherever I want. But a lot of people that have the same freedom as me usually end up choosing a job close to home or where they went to school. They put people highest on their priorities. They want to be close to friends and family. Or, with a career-first train of thought, they buy a one-way ticket in whatever direction that may be, but more often than not, it’s close to where they studied, where they had a work-study or an internship, where they are already known and recommended. And then there are the few gypsies, like me.
I’ve always loved to travel. Staying in one spot for more than three years gives me angst. I love learning about new places and seeing what others have taken pictures of with my own eyes. There’s something about feeling the aura of a place and being present in it that feels like being a part of something much bigger than me. That’s probably why I’m a geography major and why I chose place as my priority after graduating. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else except in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains so that’s where I went.
I had enjoyed doing volunteer trail work there in the past, and what better thing to do to get yourself out and intimate with a place than to live in the dirt and breathe the rain? But when I got there, I quickly learned that I was not prepared for the work. It was hard admitting that I was weak and inexperienced and would have to try a lot harder to get better. I’m not a quitter, though, so I pushed onward, imagining how much I’d grow if I didn’t end up dying from the treacherous conditions.
But when I had accepted the job, I hadn’t thought much about the people. They were hard to forget once I got there. There was rarely peace and quiet in the cabin with music blasting out the windows, stomp dancing shaking the floor, and beer cans spraying around the room. During the week, you worked side-by-side all day, then slept nearly on top of each other in a hot, damp tent all night. And while they were nice people in general, we never really became friends.
When I had told people I was going to do trail work for the summer, they’d say, “Going to be with your people!” But, these were not my people. I was quite different from them—not into drink or partying or smoking, preferring card games to yard sports, and, to my dismay—nearly hating our work and living in the woods which they thrived on.
The mountains were beautiful and full of life, but I couldn’t take my time to enjoy it because we had to power through miles of trails. I’ve always hated being wet, and it rained almost every day. And even though I’d hear an occasional bird call or wander upon a bright orange newt, the giant boulders of granite that we moved and the miles of hovel bush vines we pulled out were the things I became most intimate with. I thought I had chosen the Appalachians because of place, but I kept getting caught up with my dissatisfaction of the people and the occupation. I couldn’t say that I was happy except for in fleeting moments of standing alone on a mountain peak under a cloudless sky with a view that took my breath away.
I’d always felt drawn to the mountains, and I still do. But the back country, I learned, is not for me.
I enjoyed the volunteer work I had done before because I had been with my people, people who enjoyed and cared about nature but who may or may not pursue it in such a direct, full-time occupation. Maybe what I was seeking wasn’t so much the place as it was my memory of the community and connections I had made with the people there. The volunteers had been a diverse group of people that may not have even met otherwise, and who didn’t bond enough to stay connected after our one, close week.
The people I long to be with are scattered. Sparks from the same campfire dancing off into the night.
My people have always been small lights shining among different friend groups, with different ambitions and passions, staying by my side for just a short few steps before we went separate ways. I don’t feel like there’s a place where all of my people are, so I’ll keep traveling and hoping that I run into another drifting ember. If we dance together for even just a moment, it will be enough to rekindle my flame and keep me going, knowing that I’m not alone.