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We’ve been back in Portland for two months now. Despite a flurry of resettling in a new apartment, reuniting with old friends, and pestering the children, we’ve been ruminating on the meaning of it all, the things learned on our year abroad, and the answers to the questions that people ask us all the time.

On the morning television show AM Northwest last week, the host Helen Raptis asked us if people thought we were crazy to sell it all, pack a bag, and hit the road. Nobody has said the word “crazy” out loud, but we know there are people who think it.

While many people dream of dropping everything and hitting the road, most people don’t. I’ve come up with one of those folk wisdom dichotomies that served Gandhi so well. There are two kinds of people: settlers and nomads.

Settlers are homebodies who feel best when controlling their immediate environments. They enjoy predictable circumstances and maintain deep roots. They tend the farm and belong to the grange, where the grange people help build their barn and bring chicken noodle casseroles in times of need.

On the other hand, Tom and I belong to the nomadic tribe. We’ve been known to lightly scoff (after a drink or two) at folks who are stuck at home by a dog or a house or a garden. “It’s so narrow, so confining,” we say, and then smugly pour another round.

But maybe we are the wacky ones. For all I know, insatiable curiosity, geographical restlessness, and a passion for new habitats might be a disease. (Wait. Isn’t it called “novelty-seeking behavior”?) We nomads deliberately let slip control of our lives, just to see what will happen. We like surprises. Maybe it isn’t quite sane.

Tom and I have actually discussed this. Were we crazy to deny the temptation to root in a predictable, dependable network of people, in a privately-owned personal space? One thing we’ve learned in our travels is this: If you wander, you will meet other people who wander. They are so much fun! They may also be wacky, but they are mighty in number, entertaining, and kind to strangers. These are not deep roots, but wide ones.

Of course the world needs settlers and nomads. Settlers grow the food, run the grocery stores, contribute to civil organization, and generally keep the home fires burning.

Nomads eat in the settlers’ restaurants, carry news from place to place, fight the wars, keep the transportation and hospitality industries afloat, do the travel writing, and blaze the trail to new frontiers.

A nation of settlers would be inbred and slow to develop. A nation of nomads would possess no gross national product and would fight over the fish in the river and the berries on the bushes. So there will be no more talk of who’s crazy. It is all just as it should be. And after our year of surprises, we will now resume settling right in. Wanting to be settlers again is exactly what brought us back.

Maybe there aren’t two groups after all.


Quote in the graphic by J. R. R. Tolkien. But you knew that.