Talking to my cousin on the phone I’m surrounded by the contents of my wardrobe in my bedroom at my parent’s house. Four years of college free bins breeds a lot of extra clothing that I am finally giving away, woohoo!
This fall my cousin and I are both moving to mid-size American cities after living idyllic rural lives in varioua smattering of New England towns, camps, and schools. I’ll be going to Minneapolis to work for Habitat for Humanity doing construction and he’ll be moving to Austin Texas to work for a new-age sustainable design company. For each of us this is a second leaving as we’ve done this a few falls before when leaving for liberal arts college. This move is different because we know the world beyond our small towns is not any more or less perfect than the towns of Gorham, NH or Brattleboro, VT.
Leaving is breaking both our hearts and we’re the first to admit it. But our leaving home is the most necessary thing we can do for ourselves and our country. The short of it is, we’ve been down the rabbit hole. In fact, we grew up at the bottom of it and it’s finally time to come out. We were raised on unpasteurized whole milk, fresh eggs from the farm down the road, town parades where we got to pet the oxen, all the while surrounded by friends we’ve known since grade school. The reason for going to the city is to come back better, to be able to educate people and help work out the systematic issues affecting our daily lives. No matter how much we like to think we are in a safe bubble here, we are not.
Tourism is not a problem itself, but it is the effect of a larger societal issue in the United States regarding the design of our living spaces. Tourism is an industry which produces half of New Hampshire’s revenue. We’ve got no tax on anything except for food. Since working at the Appalachian Mountain Club, I’ve seen how extensive the tourist industry is in the White Mountains. Thousands of thru-hikers march through on their way to Georgia or Maine. One woman who I picked up hitchhiking was an accountant taking what she called a “6-month sabaatical” on the AT. Thousands more people from Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and Canada come through to find some sort of inner peace and retreat by hiking and living in the mountains for a few weeks. Even us AMC seasonal (and full-time?) employees are looking for some solitude and peace of mind in the mountains. The White Mountains are a place to work and play away from the stress of college and “real jobs.”
And this all makes perfect sense! People need breaks from the constant bombardment of information and visual haze of the cities and suburbs. Constant input from the media is just not healthy for anyone. We need green spaces to process and to think. We need areas to be alone without screens for eyes.
At the end of our phone conversation, my room was still a mess, and my cousin and I didn’t come to any solid conclusions.
I believe there is a solution buried in this chaos. Urban and rural can be integrated. It just takes some figuring.
I believe that perspective brings the best insights and I hope that by working away from New Hampshire, I can better see how to make effective change in my home when I return.
An interesting bit from NPR on tourism in New Hampshire
The website of my favorite architect, Jan Gehl, a big proponent of creating living spaces for healthy + happy people!
Discussion of rural and urban sustainability from Seattle Pacific University