Painful Truth: Distant lands and winding back roads

I am not a world traveller.

I’ve never been outside of North America; my passport has the stamp for entry to America and nothing else. I’ve never been to Mexico or Australia, Jakarta or Samarkand. I may or may not ever see any of those places.

I’ve been thinking of travel because spring is here, whether officially or not. When the trees burst into bloom and I can venture outside without multiple layers for warmth and waterproofing, I start to get itchy feet. I start to read Wikipedia articles about distant places, and wonder why I know so little about Indonesia, or Tunisia, or Estonia. You could make a pretty good travel itinerary just by listing all the countries that end in “ia.”

I am unlikely to simply buy a plane ticket, demand my vacation time, and head off. Like pretty much everyone else, I have responsibilities and a bank account that demands to be filled up frequently.

Yet I have family members who have travelled, even lived abroad, and friends who have done the same. South America, Europe, Asia – I know people who have studied, worked, and lived in all three. And of course I know many people who came here from other countries and have made their new home here, nestled between the ocean and the mountains.

Inadvertently, I have become the opposite of a widely travelled person. I have become not a hermit, but a kind of expert on the local.

I grew up in Langley and don’t remember living anywhere else. If you had to find the geographic centre of the Langleys, the point where it would balance if uprooted and placed on a giant spike, it would be close to my family’s home. 

From there, my world moved outward, by family car trips, bicycle, and eventually my own cars. In my teens I had jobs mowing lawns and painting houses that took me into neighbourhoods from one end of town to the other. I learned the simple grid of streets, and then some of the more complex nooks and crannies. 

I know of back entrances to parks, cut-throughs that allow a cyclist to slice across BC Hydro right-of-ways and into quiet cul-de-sacs. I know the walking paths that wind through ravines, where cool air drifts up from creeks in the summer and the air smells of cedar.

I know where heritage homes and markers are tucked away, where the old sawmills stood, and where spillways controlled the flow of water in now-wild creeks. 

I know the feel of the roads – smooth highways, the bump of asphalt forced up by cottonwood roots, and the rough rural roads, not paved or patched in a generation. 

The cost of this local knowledge – of almost two decades working in Langley – is that I can get quickly lost if too far over municipal boundaries. Toss me into the wilds of Port Coquitlam or White Rock, and I’m liable to find myself stuck in a cul-de-sac, poking at my phone for a map.

If given a few hundred thousand dollars and a ride to the airport, I’d happily expand my horizons. I would gladly visit  any continent – I know enough to know how little I know and how much I have to learn.

But I’m not sure I would make a trade of my local knowledge for that of a world traveller. 

The way I gained my knowledge of my home town wasn’t exactly work – it grew around me, like roots around a stone. 

I’m bound up by strands of memories and experiences shaped by my home. 

And I still have more to learn, even in the place I know best.

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