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Location independent—but not nomadic
In New Hampshire, I was mulling my various commitments to place
I just spent four weeks straight at my home in New Hampshire, where every day I am grateful to be so close to the outdoors and to climbing and to be surrounded by a community of friends who value the same things as me, and with whom I can share meals, drinks, saunas, and life.
It’s always sad to leave Rumney, my adopted home if I have one, and travel back to the DC area, which no longer feels like home and where I have none of those valued things. Here in DC, the outdoors is too far away to be of much use on a daily basis. Real mountains are a two-hour drive. Real climbing five hours. The ocean is three. There is no community of friends here who share my values—most of them who used to be here have moved away over the years in search of a less costly, less work-centered life.
On the drive on the way down, I dropped my friend off at the bus station in Lebanon—he was on his way to Boston to catch a flight to Europe. He’s a climber who has enjoyed living in Rumney off and on for the past two years. Along the way, he asked if I planned to keep my budding homestead there forever, and I said yes, yes I think I will. He told me he couldn’t see himself living there year-round. Not enough to do, not enough going on. And I said yes, of course, me neither. My plan is to go to Mexico for two months during the winter, and also to spend time elsewhere—Europe, perhaps. I’m still eyeing that Italian villa with a veranda and a pizza oven.
And yet. Often in the afternoons or late evenings, I would sit on my back deck and look at the acre of land that I own on Main Street in this small village, and daydream about a life there full-time. The sun would be setting, the leaves on the trees in my backyard orange and yellow, the wind hastening more and more of them to the ground with each strong gust, and winter closing in.
I looked at the land and noticed there were many projects that I did not get to this year. I was distracted by relationship stuff, I could say, by way of excuse, or too focused on climbing perhaps, or maybe it was the four weeks I spent this Summer away in New Zealand with my son. But none of that is really true. It’s just that I am not there all the time.
This year, the plan had been to extend the deck under the crabapple tree and build an outdoor kitchen, a place to wash the vegetables from the garden, a shaded space under the tree to sit and have meals. The plan had been to raise the garden beds and install hardware cloth so the moles (or whoever was eating our potatoes) couldn’t get to them next season. And then there is the studio on the hillside, or the treehouse, or the terracing up the hillside into the woods, and on and on and on. None of it got done. But then, the projects are endless.
I wondered what would happen if I just decided to stay there, maybe for a year, like it was during the pandemic. The climbing season is maybe four months of truly glorious weather, but there is more: winters of little daylight, chopping wood, and sitting by the fire. What books would I read with nothing else to do on those long nights? Would I finally get to renovating the closets upstairs, or repainting the stairwell? Then there is the Spring thaw, into mud season, where the snow melts and the bugs come out and one, last big snowstorm rolls through. There is the Summer, the whole Summer. I wondered: how much work could I get done if I didn’t spend so much time traveling away?
Earlier this year, I wrote about committing yourself to a place as opposed to always optimizing for freedom—in other words, arranging your life to be a digital nomad. It was around my 40th birthday and I had just come across the idea from David Goodhart that there are two kinds of people in the world: the Somewheres and the Anywheres. For most of my life, I’d been an Anywhere, but the pandemic had forced me into a surprising appreciation for being a Somewhere.
Except that right now, everything is going in the other direction: the age of remote work and the creator economy, and the post-pandemic emphasis on location independence has created a new generation of Anywheres. There are now millions of newly location-independent humans with the opportunity to go anywhere, be anywhere, and live a life of more freedom, one less tied to place. I’ve been location independent in my work for ten years and often wondering when the rest of the world might catch up. Now, it seems it has. The nomads are everywhere. And if you can be anywhere, why choose to just stay somewhere?
But there aren’t just two options, Somewhere or Anywhere. I’ve realized what I’m doing is a kind of in-between, a hybrid whereby I am location independent as far as my income goes, but I am also committed to various communities that I will return to again and again. Rumney is one of them. When I go to Catalunya to climb with friends in a few weeks, I’ll be looking at whether Cornudella de Montsant, a small town near the world-famous crags of Siurana, is a community I could see myself returning to as well. Then this winter, I’ll return to La Ventana in Mexico to kitesurf.
This, I suppose, is the post-nomad life I’m building for myself.