Searching for My Tribe

I’ve begun speaking aloud my thoughts about moving away from Idaho, maybe to Vermont. This shift from internal musings to sharing the idea with friends is one of the ways I process big changes I’m contemplating, putting it out there – verbalizing my reasons, hopes and concerns – and listening to the feedback. This lets me consider things I’ve overlooked, better focusing on what is and isn’t important to me.

One recurring comment I’ve received so far is that Vermont – and the east coast in general – is more densely populated than Idaho and surely, I won’t like that. The assumption is that if I like rural Idaho, it must be because I don’t want to be around other people.

Here’s the thing: it’s not the quantity of people that concerns me (up to a point; I still want to be in a rural setting with land and trees around me), it’s the quality.

If I like the people around me, density per square mile isn’t the key factor.

As I’ve explained ad nauseam to perplexed friends since moving to Idaho, “I love the climate and terrain. I don’t like the culture.”

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Another comment I hear is that Vermont’s landscape doesn’t include the high mountains and open vistas I’m used to in Idaho.

True enough. I would indeed miss Idaho’s mountains and vistas. I’ve loved exploring the national forest that is my “back yard” these past 15 years. But these mountains and forests are increasingly visited by people I’m finding hard to relate to. The explosive growth in tourist visits to public lands – driven even more by the pandemic this past year – is negatively changing my life in the forest and in town.

Americans truly are ugly tourists, abroad and in our own country. Living in a place where the economy relies almost entirely on tourism has been eye-opening. Just as the advent of UTVs has completely changed summer use of Idaho’s public lands, so have short-term home rentals completely changed tourism-based mountain towns like mine, offering easy access by visitors with no stake in the area and little sense of responsibility toward preserving or maintaining it. Use it, trash it – “We’re on vacation!” – then return home. Holidays are a nightmare for those of us not making money off tourists.

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A friend living in the northern part of the state, sympathetic to my struggles, commented that he at least lives near a college town. Many of his friends are retired professors or other professionals. His point made me admit that I haven’t found that sort of community here.

Nor can I blame this sense of isolation on the pandemic.

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Pondering all this, I realized that one major factor in deciding whether I move will be the likelihood of finding a welcoming sense of community. No more tourism-based towns.

But who are my people, the sort I feel most comfortable around, with whom I want to share a sense of family and belonging going forward?

Tribe (noun): a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.

Oxford Dictionary

Tribe: […] 2. a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest.

Mirriam-Webster
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I’ve always belonged to more than one tribe:

               Runners/athletes/adventurers

               Dog/animal nuts

               Other introverts

               Progressives

               Writers/artists

               Nerds, especially those interested in earth sciences and wildlife

Some friends fall into one of those groups, others into several or all of them. We share common morals, core beliefs, outlooks and activities. We support each other, show up when needed, and cheer our successes.

My running tribe in Seattle also met most of my intellectual needs. It’s filled with a variety of people from all sorts of professions and occupations, making for lively conversations and respectful debates during our runs. The perfect amount and style of socializing for this introvert.

I really, really miss them and that sense of community. I love running trails with my dogs, but their conversational skills are limited.

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I used to believe my tribes could be found or established anywhere.

Idaho has proven me wrong.

These past 15 years in Idaho have taught me that making new associations and forging strong bonds is challenging. My connections to my tribes back in Seattle have kept me afloat all this time, through regular communication via email and social media. This became obvious a few days ago when, on my birthday, I received many heartfelt notes from those friends on Facebook.

The WordPress blogging community has become my most recent tribe, my querencia.

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Moving to Idaho in 2005, I took a leap of faith, coming here without knowing a soul, choosing this location based solely on geography and climate. I was certain that I would eventually find my people, new tribes similar to those I left behind. That never happened. The population is too small, the cultural divide too wide and deep.

Or I’m just too odd a duck.

My research regarding Vermont (or any other location I think might be a good fit) will definitely include social and cultural opportunities and norms. I long to feel part of one or more tribes again.

meme

Feature image: a recent sunset from my house. Yes, this is something I will definitely miss if I move away.

25 thoughts on “Searching for My Tribe”

  1. The us v. them in our society has become too strong, and I suspect will even be stronger over the next few years. I think you’re smart to make this move while you’re young enough to meet a whole new tribe.

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  2. I think our society has changed making it more difficult to find one’s tribe. Too often people now judge very arbitrarily by externals.

    So… Vermont? You might also like a Colorado mountain town like Salida, Durango, Pagosa Springs, Lake City where there are good running trails, mountains, forests, skiing and the population definitely leans toward being well-educated and politically liberal. Or, more remote (well it’s hard to be more remote than Lake City) or, further south, mountain towns like Chama San Luis, La Veta, Crestone. Beautiful, beautiful locations and not popular especially (or known by) tourists. All above “snake line” 🙂

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    1. Colorado is about to experience the same issues regarding wolves – and dogs that look like wolves – that I’ve had to deal with here since 2008. So no, I’m done with western states that fear and loath wolves,. I’m worn out, worrying that Conall will be shot because he looks like a wolf. Thus Vermont. There are only so many battles I have the energy to fight.

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      1. I completely understand the wolf concern. We have a couple. The plan is that they will stay (“Wolves, dudes, here’s the thing, you stay on THIS side of the mountains.”) on the western slope in the northern part of the state.

        I moved here thinking it would be dog paradise and in many ways it has proven to be. BUT in SoCal I didn’t have to deal with hunters or bears. I had endless trails in the Lagunas to run and the dogs could run off leash, though I stopped that when my little chow mix puppy wanted to join a pack of coyotes down in a valley. Ironically, here in Colorado, I yearn for those trails and what a Bavarian friend called “The friendly mountains.” I’m happy here in Heaven and where I am suits my abilities (or disabilities) but… ❤

        As for a tribe? You've given me something to think about.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wolves will go where they want, which is how conflicts between them and ranchers arise. They left Yellowstone for Idaho and Montana, and now are spreading throughout the West. While I hope Colorado handles such conflicts better than Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington and Oregon have so far, I’m not holding my breath.

        “Friendly mountains” is a concept I embrace. In Washington, most of my trail running was in what there are called “foothills” which are probably the equivalent of Vermont’s mountains (i.e. elevations up to 3,000 feet). I’m no longer a spring chicken, so friendlier mountains sound like a wise plan for my running longevity 🙂

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      3. The idea of telling wolves where they can and cannot live is laughable. Colorado won’t handle it well. It wasn’t passed by a very wide margin. So…

        Friendly mountains are wonderful. I’m glad I had those miles of trails for such a long time. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but the fates were looking out for me and I was very fortunate and am now. ❤

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  3. I have never traveled to either Vermont or Idaho, but I understand the need to find your tribe. I have been lucky to have lived within a compatible tribe until now. But as I contemplate a change of location, your concerns resonate. In many parts of the world the pandemic has accelerated a process of micro-xenophobia, fragmenting attempts to create the tribes that you are looking for. Hope that is not too much of a concern for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, the pandemic has made social fractures more obvious, which makes finding similarities more challenging and necessary. I hope you’re able to find a new location that welcomes you and your family, and offers a the same sense of belonging that I’m searching for here.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My long term staffer, now working for my former partner and soon to be Court Commissioner is from Maine. I traveled there and visited her family in 1997 and met a lot of locals.

    One told me, “I am not from Maine, but I got here as soon as I could”.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Perhaps your recent loss and conflict with the hunters have brought your thoughts to a head only you will know where you will feel right. Living in a densely populated country finding my outside space is difficult but in a forest, I can find the isolation although I may be very close to areas of populations. I think your feelings will get stronger in the coming months/years if you do not move I look and your pictures of open space with some envy but I totally know where are coming from quality, not quantity. Your age and health now and in the future also have a big factor in your plans.

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    1. You’re very perceptive, Andy. I’m sure those recent incidents have colored my emotions, as has the fact that I hate the holidays (long ago family trauma, always lurking in the subconscious). Which is why I like to let such decisions percolate for months, feel the ebbs and flows of my feelings. You’ve also hit on another consideration, which is: where do I want to grow old? Services for the elderly are almost nonexistent here, and medical facilities for anything but routine care far, far away. That’s not a comforting prospect for someone living alone with no family nearby.

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  6. Good luck. I know the Northeast U.S. is too crowded for me. The winters in that area are brutal, but then Idaho has some rough winters too. I do hope you find that perfect place to live and connect with people who can become your tribe.

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  7. Whoever told you Vermont is overpopulated with no mountains has never been there. Granted, the Green Mountain range is not as grand as what you’re used to, but when the foliage turns in autumn? You’ll be in scenic heaven. As for college towns… Burlington will fit that bill. My advice is a 2 week exploration trip. Rent a car and drive from village to village, meet the locals and get a feel for it before you take the plunge. And hey, you can always check out my old blogs from our vacations there.
    👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My friends in Vermont would agree with you, River. I’ll check your old blog posts. I’m sure they’ll confirm my impressions of the state. Current thinking is seeing about spending a month or two there, once it’s safe to travel again.

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      1. Yes; thanks for the tips. Autumn would be great. I’d avoid prime hunting season here, and see the real beauty of the forests there. Plus, I probably won’t be able to get a vaccination until summer so no travel ’til after that anyway.

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  8. I would look for a good liberal arts college nearby as someone stated earlier. You could find your peeps in that more open environment (depending on the school of course). I really loved being in Boulder for many years.

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    1. Yes, good advice that I’m giving serious consideration to. If I could afford Boulder I’d take a close look, but sadly Colorado is about to encounter the same wolf issues as Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and even California have been dealing with. Even though CO voters approved reintroduction of wolves, their appearance in the state will hard-fought by ranchers and hunters with all the same initial violence and ugliness that the other states saw (and still see). I don’t want to take a step back. Part of Vermont’s appeal is that there are no wolves there (at present and not likely to be anytime soon) so I could relax and not worry that Conall will be mistaken for one and shot.

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  9. I’m new to your blog so this suggestion might be completely inappropriate – but my husband and I moved to the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan (originally from Chicago) six years ago and we *love* it – Houghton is a college town. We usually get close to 300 inches of snow per year, so you need to be a hard-core winter lover, though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amy, thanks for reading!

      Your suggestion is welcome! Years ago, while living in Seattle, I had a roommate who came from the UP. She loved it, talked often about its virtues. Although I think I remember something about horrible mosquitoes 😉 I hadn’t thought about UP/Michigan, but will investigate. Thank you!

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