I am not born of expensive stock, more like barnyard livestock, strong and sturdy, but speckled with dirt. My parents and their parents before them started families young – a little too young – and most folks assumed they wouldn’t see many miles beyond their small town. For people in similar situations, that has proven true. But not for us.
My father has broken his back and knees and shoulders over the years to ensure we had what we needed, and my mother aced her way through college and grad school with babies in tow. They had their fair share of work but made time to play. Days in the sand, in the woods, in the car. Not very far or fancy, but there was always something new to see, a waterfall or a sunset that couldn’t be missed. We packed a lot of coolers and slept in a lot of tents, rarely visiting the same places or driving the same routes. I was taught to explore.
My mom has a knack for turning a 45-minute drive into an all-day adventure. She loves a scenic byway almost as much as she loves my father, and he must love her way more than that because he never says ‘no.’ I was shown that the fastest way somewhere was rarely worth the time saved. For me, this has become more of an overarching philosophy on life.
I didn’t step foot on a plane until I was 17 but have traveled ever since, visiting over 20 countries and living on three different continents. It took scholarships, student loans, and nights of waiting tables and serving drinks, but for the past 17 years, I’ve journeyed well beyond the village limits of my hometown.
I’ve seen the Alps from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Monaco and Italy, my mother beside me for half of these. I sat in the court room at Nuremberg and walked the grounds of Dachau with my baby brother, wondering if he felt the weight of it all. I traveled Spain with my other brother and a full-blown bout of food poisoning. Despite the sadness and stomachache, these are some of my fondest memories.
I’ve snorkeled in Fiji, sailed the Great Barrier Reef, sunbathed nude in Crete and spent the rest of that night in a bathtub filled with ice. I fell in love in London and cried my way across Heathrow and onto the plane home. I earned my graduate degree in Sydney while chasing an Aussie boy and a bottle of gin. I returned home, alone and broken, afraid my days of wandering were over. They weren’t.
I met a very different man, one who didn’t care much for gin or me when I drank it, a man from a small northern town just like mine who followed me to the summit of Capri to propose. I thought that would be the highlight of my travels, but we’ve had so many more since then.
The next year, I strolled with my husband and his mother through a rainy Prague, blissful and nauseous from the walnut-sized life taking shape inside me. I taught that same child to walk in the Canadian Rockies and later carried our second child on my back (while our third was in my womb) across the rocky beaches of Nova Scotia.
A year and a half after having that third baby, I left all those babies at home and drove myself and two girlfriends around Ireland’s western coast, battling oncoming tour buses on the one lane cliffside trek. I needed to know I was still okay on my own in the world. I am.
My purpose is not to brag about everywhere I’ve been. Okay, maybe a little. I am proud of myself. But my other point, the more important point, is that I’m proud of where I come from. I was raised in a tiny little town with a single blinking light and a buck pole. Just because you come from a small place doesn’t mean you are built to do small things.
My family spent time wandering. It might not have been around the cobblestone streets of Europe, but those winding dirt roads and scenic byways fueled the curiosity that eventually led me to those cobblestone streets. The desire to see something new and different was planted from the start as was the appreciation for what was right in front of me.
I had a childhood full of everyday experiences that were made to feel extraordinary because they were given such importance. A sunset. A picnic. An evening swim. They felt ceremonious. I can only hope that through our travels, near and far, I can help foster in my children this same appreciation for the world.
Few things bring me as much joy as a wild huckleberry patch deep in the forest or a dip in a northern lake as the sun blazes across the evening sky. These small things seem to be what give the “big” things some perspective. Can you really appreciate the glory of a mountain if you can’t find the beauty in the foothills? I’m not sure you can.
But I guess I don’t know. My life didn’t start at the top of any mountain, but my parents showed me how to climb.