Best laid plans

For more than a few years, my husband and I have been developing a plan to move to England. More precisely, I’ve been researching and he has listened patiently when I’ve needed him to, the idea growing on him with each discussion. With each trip we’ve taken, and with a somewhat daunting amount of sifting through books, websites, and expat forums, the plans began to solidify from nebulous, to vague possibility fueled in no small part by my intense longing to be Elsewhere. In fact our most recent visit, early last winter, was organized with our plan in mind; we’d stay for an extended period of time in a limited number of locales, as opposed to what we’ve often done: drive hundreds of miles throughout the country, soaking up every detail along the way. If we stayed put for the better part of a week at each stop, that would allow us to get our bearings and consider what was locally significant–i.e., was there a market nearby, a pub, perhaps a train station, and local activities? Was it out in the country near woods to explore and wildlife to enjoy? It was an excellent plan and the vacation one of the best we’ve had. But as often can happen, things changed.

I’m still not sure what caused it, but all at once, the wind left our sails. I knew which visa would be appropriate for us, I’d consulted with an immigration attorney, my search for the perfect property in the just right location had produced good results. I’d gathered resources on vacation rentals, since that is what we were interested in–purchasing a property that served primarily as our home, but could be rented out when we were traveling. Something out of the ordinary, though. A place that offered a unique experience. I sifted through market research reports on that particular kind of tourism. I lined up companies to work with on writing a business plan that would be flawless. All the details were examined and reexamined.

Then one evening after my husband came home from work, I explained that I truly didn’t think the plan was feasible after all. It was an unsettling feeling–the kind that is difficult to dismiss as just having cold feet. After years of yearning for something I knew to be nearly out of reach, but possible given the time I’d spent, all of a sudden, my motivation was gone. I could hear the disappointment in his voice as we talked, and realized how much he had begun to look forward to the move.

I questioned whether it was simply the fear of such a big move at this point in our lives. Overwhelming perhaps, depending on the details, but outright fear? No, that wasn’t it at all. It was more the reality of logic that kicked in. The uncertainty of Brexit was definitely a factor. And then there was the vacation market, bordering on over saturation. I’d seen the growth myself over the years, but to see the statistics and begin to question how, with so many rentals available for those booking a vacation, another one purchased primarily to allow us to live elsewhere and provide some support, could be pursued any longer.

I think of my 13 year old self dreaming of studying piano at Julliard; my twenty something self, imagining the old house I could renovate one day; as an almost 40 year old, a tea shop I thought I might own. Some of those dreams were more intense than others, but at their respective times in my life, each mattered. My life hasn’t been poorer for not having realized those dreams, but it’s the poignancy of their loss that remains–reminders of what might have been. Living in England was far more than any dream.

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I’ve been reading about something called place attachment. I suppose it’s what one does when she doesn’t completely understand why she feels she belongs in a place she’s never actually been. One of the key concepts of place attachment is place identity–“attachment in terms of emotional or symbolic meanings that are assigned by an individual. The physical landscape or place becomes a part of a person’s self-identity.” I’d add that the meanings aren’t assigned intentionally–at least in my experience. In fact the intrinsic value seemed to exist before I ever visited. There was an immediate connection felt the first time I was there, and an intense desire to stay much longer than the week we had planned. Leaving was emotionally difficult. The urge to return never leaves. It’s as if the place was home once, a very long time ago, and somehow, that information is embedded in my DNA.

I can still hear my husband’s response. “So what if we just go? What if we go like we have before, then… stay? How would anyone know? How long would it take for us to be found out?” I imagined jeopardizing my ability to ever return. He wasn’t serious, really, but I could tell he was curious. I wonder about those who make such a decision. Who were we? Certainly not like those escaping a dangerous regime, or searching for a life that would eliminate fear of persecution, hunger… death. We simply wanted to live in the countryside and be able to walk when and wherever we wanted, right from our front door in a place we love. Space for a good-sized garden, water to help it flourish, weather that doesn’t sear tender leaves and shoots in summer–in a word, seasons. It sounds so idealistic saying it like this.

I have a distinct place attachment to England. I have not so distant relatives who were born there and emigrated to California in the late 1800s. Ironically, as much as we’ve travelled around England, we’ve never been to Devon, and just south of Dartmoor where they were from. Still, the attachment I feel each time I’m anywhere there is a strong one–familiarity with places I’ve never been so strong it’s as if I was there once, and not briefly. It’s uncanny.

I may never completely understand it, but I will never feel as if living there is something that got away from me. Sometimes, there are other paths to follow in life. The best seem to come after I’ve made an unexpected turn. New paths emerge, as if they were waiting for me all along.

Months have passed since I wrote this. And since then, much has happened. We sold the house we’d lived in for nearly 20 years and said good bye to a city we’ve spent most of our lives in. More than 3,000 miles later, with one son, a dog, and a cat, we said hello to a 132 year old Victorian in a small town in craggy Midcoast Maine. The how and why of that decision needs to be explained, if only to make complete sense of it myself. More than one person has asked, and I always pause before I respond because I’m not certain I know for sure. But I always begin, “Well, we were going to move to England… ”

Perhaps the process of considering such a daunting move to begin with helped make any other move appear less challenging. Perhaps the experience was more to eliminate all possibilities, opening the door for so many more that might have been missed. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand, but I know we’ve made the best decision. We quip that the flight from our new home is shorter now, that it won’t cost as much. That we can go back to vacationing instead of searching for the perfect place to grow new roots. But I haven’t felt like planning the next vacation. I will at some point, but not yet. We’ve already begun to grow roots in what feels like the perfect place. I may not have the intense connection to this place yet–at least as intense a connection as I have to England, but I feel as if I belong here. And that is far more than enough.





6 responses to “Best laid plans”

  1. Scott

    So wonderful to read your writing again!

  2. That sense of home and place … is so difficult. Once you’ve had one home, and then another, you’re pretty much doomed, I think. Shall we return to the Napa Valley? Glasgow? Or stay in the SF Bay Area? They’re each home, with Glasgow really competing for all attention all the time. But we build lives here, and slowly detach from the other places, visiting as we can.

    I’m glad you’re settling in. I do hope you find the time to travel and explore. I wish you tourist’s eyes for where you are now, so that you may see all of the wonder as if it were new. I hope you remain expatriates there for long enough to really explore all of the bits and pieces taken for granted by people who’ve been there their whole lives.

  3. Wow, we resonate with so much of that — we yearned for Scotland after we’d left, for so, so, SO long, and then… boom. This year, it all fell apart. We realized that we realistically cannot do it – the risk are just too great, and maybe we used up our intrepid, pioneering spirit in 2012. It was a disappointment that we haven’t yet gotten around to processing entirely — too much has been going on.

    I’ll laugh, though, if next year at this time we’re the owners of ten acres in, like, Ohio or something…

  4. Gina Blitstein

    Wow… I think we have the opposite “affliction,” Where you’ve always longed for a particular place, I’ve always longed to discover that connection to a place. I call it my “forever home” longing – I guess the term, as you say, is place identity. I don’t know where it is but I believe I’ll know it when I feel it. I’m thrilled for you that you and Phil have found a place where you feel at home and can have the quality and type of life you desire. It’s a huge thing.

  5. It’s so lovely to read your thoughts. I feel that pull to England too. Sometimes a dream is just the engine that gets you to other paths. I am living vicariously on your move to Maine.
    Love to you and speedy healing my friend.

  6. What a lovely read, and one that I can completely relate to. We are stuggling now with the question “where do we go next” as the Bay Area becomes an unrealistic place to retire in. We also have this amazing bond with France and now I am wondering if it too is Place identity. We or more so I, often say the same as Phil, let’s just go and no one will know! I am loving your new life, and I am so happy that you are growing new roots and settling in. I look forward to seeing you on FB every day and what is new in your little neighorhood.

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