When you carry your home with you, when are you home?

  • Jonathan Thompson

 

At High Country News, we think a lot about that overused but still relevant term, "a sense of place." I don't know exactly what it means, either. But I think it involves knowing that we're here, rather than, well, over there. And that we understand at least some of the characteristics that make this place -- the West -- different from other places.

John Daniel's well-wrought essay in this issue cuts right to the heart of the sense-of-place matter. Daniel talks of the almost primordial pull of the West --  a pull that comes from particular elements of the region, its plants, its soil, its rocks and rivers and overarching skies. Whatever it is, we've all felt it.

Then there's Nate Berg's cover story. He, too, writes about place -- Quartzsite, Ariz. -- a barren spot in the Southwestern desert that has become a mecca for RVers. An estimated 1 million or more RVs stop in Quartzsite each winter, with 10,000 or more staying a few months or longer. Many park in the desert, on a vast expanse of federal ground that was long ago trampled flat. There, they form a sort of community. Actually, it's more like a small city, albeit one without infrastructure or an elected local government.

The force that draws people to Quartzsite is as strong as the one that drew John Daniel out West. The RVers return, year after year, with the intense loyalty of homeward-bound geese, driving hundreds, even thousands, of miles and spending bundles on gas. But rather than being drawn to Arizona by the ocotillos or the lizards or the way the light falls on a particular rocky crag, this giant, temporary city appears to be pulled together by the prospect of swap meets and a cheap place to camp, dump sewage and get water. That, and the impromptu community the RVers create.

In other words, they are not drawn by anything particular about this place, except for its sunny winters and the flatness that makes it perfect for parking RVs. Sure, there's an illusion of place -- the chance to live in a desert diorama, with jagged mountains in the distance, yes, but also with TVs conveniently on hand to transport you away, if you get bored. Really, this is the opposite of a sense of place -- a sort of blank slate on which all these folks can create something new.

There's something inspiring about all these strangers coming together peacefully, year after year. At Quartzsite, you don't need to dig roots to enjoy them; if the "community" doesn't suit you, just gas up and go. But it's also a bit creepy, this idea that place really doesn't matter.

Berg talks about an academic who flies over Quartzsite's "boondocks" and sees the mirror image of a real city. More and more, we mirror the RVers societally, as well. We specialize in living without commitment: "Hooking up" has many connotations.  We live in cities and towns that may have been settled in a particular place for a reason -- good water, good soil, a coal or mineral seam nearby. But in many cases, those original reasons were long ago paved over or sucked dry or just forgotten. Our chain stores and strip malls could be anywhere. We revel in our placelessness, working on Wall Street from a home office on the outskirts of Aspen. We are at home everywhere now. Everywhere, that is, except for where we are -- where the trees take root, the rivers flow, the sun hits the earth in that certain way.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Western Watersheds Project seeks a Tenth Circuit Staff Attorney to bring litigation in the interests of protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife, particularly focused...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    Position Title: Director of Development Status: Full-Time/Exempt Reports to: Executive Director Location: Remote (California preferred) About the Native American Land Conservancy As one of the...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....