Sweet Tennessee, you bring out the wild child in me. From your rolling green hills to the bright lights of Music Row and every coffee house in between, I am forever in awe how a 9-hour drive can transport me to such splendor. I want to take a minute to inhale your scenery and keep mental photographs of all the soul food that kept my belly full for days. I want to relive the first “y’all” and friendly smile on each and every face I encountered. And I am lucky to have driven on the Natchez Trace, a thing of beauty leading to new adventures and quiet.
Living in the city, I don’t get many chances to see lush landscapes. In Illinois, we have corn – rows of it – and cows. From Chicago to East St. Louis you see miles of flat lands speckled with farm houses and grazing cattle. As a child, our favorite mode of transportation was by car. We never flew from one destination to another. It was always the same routine every summer: pack up the van, fill the gas tank, and go. I sat in the backseat counting the days until we’d return home, despising every little thing about road trips. To put it bluntly, I was afraid of being away from home and I loathed unfamiliarity.
It wasn’t until my first trip to New York that finally broke my seemingly permanent hatred for travel. I only visited New York City for the day. Most of the trip took place in upstate New York which is hilly and beautiful and free of skyscrapers. That’s not to say I don’t love the Burroughs of NYC because I do. But I think a huge part of travel, for me at least, is witnessing the lands untouched by human hands. When I visited Portland and waded through a crisp, clear spring that eventually led us to a hidden waterfall, my deep affection for this unbelievably gorgeous planet grew and I started second-guessing my identity as a city girl.
In a lot of ways, I blame my depression and anxiety for pushing me into this identity “crisis”. When you start to face your demons, you simply have no other option than to go up against your darkest fears. You begin to realize home is a feeling that first begins with you and the people you’re surrounded by. Sure, home can be a physical place, but it is a true gift to feel at home anywhere. I sincerely believe that feeling of home starts with self love. As a person constantly juggling my mental health issues, some fears seem too irrational to hold onto. I started to celebrate my small victories first – taking a shower, getting out of the house for an hour. As my anxiety became more manageable, I took small trips out of state. I learned to love being in a plane. I traveled more for my job. I started to use my coping mechanisms, like controlled breathing and finding my anxiety triggers, while on the road. And I began to love the freedom that travel brought me.
It is within ourselves we find a place of love and peace. It is in the beauty of traveling that lets us exercise our capabilities in being able to handle it all even when we are away from the place we recognize as home base. It is when we recognize home as just bricks and mortar that we unleash a wild need for exploration. Tennessee was home for several days. In the next couple of weeks, Missouri and Kansas will be home. And in the next couple of months, I’ll be on another flight to California and New York City calling those places “home” for a long weekend.
Wherever you are, you are home. See everything. Take in the sights. Pack lightly. Just go.