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.”
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.
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.
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
I’ve always belonged to more than one tribe:
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.
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.
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.
Feature image: a recent sunset from my house. Yes, this is something I will definitely miss if I move away.