A Place Called Home
My Thanksgiving guests arrived when the air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area was at its unhealthiest, not just in our region but in the world. We were downwind of the wildfire referred to as the Camp Fire (the name conjures up images of s’mores and good times; the reality was that it was the deadliest in the history of our state). My guests came armed with their N95 masks. Once we got them safely inside our house, where we had spent a good part of the previous week, my sister asked how I coped with living in an area where natural disasters (such as earthquakes and wildfires) were a real threat, not to mention the stress of crazy traffic and an insanely high cost of living. She asked if I thought about moving.
It’s home, I replied. I realized that I’ve often wondered the same thing about people who live in, what I consider, inhospitable places. Why do people stay in flood plains, in coastal towns that get hit time and time again by hurricanes, or in brutally cold territories? Now, I know; these are places people call home.
The Mobility Myth
Although we think of ours as being a mobile society, most people stay put. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, people are less mobile than they used to be. People sometimes move for work opportunities but, for the most part, we stay because of family and friends. We also stay because of inertia; it’s easier to stay than move.
Overwhelmingly people stay put because of emotional attachments to their communities. The attachments may, naturally, include family and friends, but may also include the land, the physical attributes of the place, the cultural ties and/or their dwelling. We listen to interviews of those who failed to evacuate (when they could) during a bad storm or even a fire. These folks often report wanting to protect their home; sometimes they want to protect their pets. Basically, they are willing to go down with the ship rather than jump.
The concept of home is deeply rooted in our psyches. Grown men and women sometimes refer to the place they lived as children “home.” For me, my place of origin never held this iconic status. My parents moved several times after I left their home; I moved many more times. Home is where I currently reside.
Earthquakes, mudslides, wild fires, berserk traffic and outrageous housing costs notwithstanding, here’s why I stay put. Nice people reside everywhere but I’m surrounded by more like-minded people in the SF Bay Area than anywhere else I know. I love the diversity, the richness of the culture, the beauty of the bay and the ocean, and the rolling hills within spitting distance. I love the bridges. I love living so near my daughter and relatively close to my stepson. I love going to political demonstrations, museums, taquerias, and cannabis dispensaries.
If I need to leave my dwelling due to an earthquake or a fire, I will miss the creaky floors; the blaring sirens; the teenagers outside my window, who forget other people want to sleep; as well as the mystique of living in a house that has provided shelter for generations of people. I won’t go down with the ship but I’m not leaving anytime soon either. This is home.