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Place: Finding the Texture That Fits You

By Trevor HigbeeMarch 28, 2018

I've always loved the idea of place, but I haven't always known it.

I was born in the Seattle area. Then over the course of my young life, moved to Southern California, Dallas, Italy, Kazakhstan, China, Salt Lake, DC, Beijing, Houston, and finally, Seattle. While I understand there are many people who have lived and traveled a great deal more than me, I have done enough moving for myself that I have come to appreciate the idea of place.

I remember when I graduated college my primary motivation was to find a job—anywhere. I didn't particularly care where it was as long as it paid a salary and was in my field of study. I remember recruiters asking me what I thought about living in Chicago or LA, Houston, Boston, or DC. I told them all the same thing—that one place was just as good as any other. I think I really believed that.

My wife and I ended up in Houston. Neither of us had been there before, but I got a good offer, so we both kind of looked at each other and said, "Why not?" Looking back at our time there I think we both agree that we had good lives—we had each other, good friends, support systems, good jobs. Houston, we thought, was just as good a place as any other. wasn't.

We realized it wasn't the place for us. I don't mean that as a colloquialism, I mean that it literally wasn't our place. Toward the end of our time in Houston, we visited family in Seattle. Everywhere we drove or walked, we were up a hill, down another, through a tunnel, over a bridge, beside a lake, over an island, or along a shore. That geographic variety seemed to be the daily routine. Added to this were the moss, the dark green trees, the very blue sky, the late-setting sun, the dark blue water, and the black night sky. On the flight back to Houston I tried to put a word on the place—and the only word I could come up with was texture. The place had a texture that seemed right to me.

I've now lived in Seattle for over six years, and every time I leave it's a revelation when I come back. I don't know of a better place for me to be. And I do mean place. My wife and I have much of the same things we had in Houston—a decent home, loving family, great friends, good support systems, and engaging jobs. These, I've told myself in the past, should be the things that make life beautiful, regardless of place. But what I've learned over the last few years is that the idea of place—of being rooted, and present in a place of texture, variety—is meaningful to me in a way that 10 years ago I might not have understood.

I've also found that I'm not the only person who feels a strong attachment to place.

  • Last year I read The Meadow by James Galvin, a beautiful story about a meadow on the Colorado/Wyoming border and the lives of the people who belonged to it.
  • Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself is a hilarious account of his observations returning to New Hampshire after living in England for 20 years—a kind of celebration of a place you once knew and are seeing again for the first time.
  • Maps and exploration are strongly tied to place and are two of my favorite subjects. Maphead is a funny and entertaining book by Ken Jennings (of Jeopardy fame) about the joy and meaning of maps, geography, and place.
  • Geography of Bliss (one of many recent books on happiness) is a fun book about how place shapes our culture and our view of happiness.
  • Longitude by Dava Sobel is the story of John Harrison, an English carpenter-turned-clock-maker who committed his life to finding a reliable way of calculating longitudeliterally giving us the ability to place ourselves on a map.
  • Any book on James Cooka master surveyor and explorer, is a must-read for fans of place. He opened to the western world more places (basically all of Polynesia) than any other man in history. Blue Latitudes is a fun one to start with.
  • And while we're on the subject of Polynesia, Wade Davis (a National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence - how cool would that job title be?) and his book The Wayfinders is a beautiful celebration of culture and of place and exploration. It is one of my favorites.
  • If you're looking for your place in the universe, Secrets of the Night Sky is a great introduction to the natural order of the seasons, sun, moon, stars, and planets.

Over the past few years I've been observing the night sky from Seattle (when it's not too cloudy!) and it's a beautiful thing seeing the universe return to you again and again from the same spot on earth each season. When I travel, I always make a point of looking at the night sky and noticing how different it is from a new location. It helps me remember that despite the suburban sprawl and strip-mall sameness that is so prevalent across American cities, not every place is the same.

About the Author: Trevor Higbee has been involved in building software for ThriftBooks since 2011—first as a Software Developer, then Manager, and now Director of Software Engineering. When he's not spending time with his wife and three children, Trevor enjoys reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

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