Entertainment, Katie McDowell, Life & Leisure

Welcome, home: Contemplating what that word means

Katie McDowell
Katie McDowell

I’ve been thinking about the concept of home a lot lately.

Growing up an Army brat, moving was just a part of life — it’s not like you get a say in it, and since you don’t know anything different, it doesn’t seem all that odd to be told you’re picking up and leaving again after a few years here or there.

Having bounced around a good bit like this, I’m always a bit stumped by the question, “Where are you from?” I was born in Denver, moved to California at six months, left for Texas some time after that, landed in Maryland for a few years, got sent to Germany, then back to Maryland, where I was fortunate enough to stick around for all of junior high and high school.

And then I moved here.

Interestingly, I have never once uttered “Morgantown” in response to that question, or even “West Virginia,” for that matter — despite the fact that I’ve lived here longer than all those other places combined. It simply hasn’t ever occurred to me to think of it that way.

It’s been on my mind frequently, though, since I spent several days surrounded by people who are genuinely new to the state, here as part of the Ascend West Virginia program.

As Chad’s guest on Ascend’s Country Roads Tour getaway at Snowshoe recently, I met folks who have moved here from all over. California, Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, and points in between, including quite a few from my old stomping grounds near the nation’s capital, and even ye olde Deutschland.

Some of them have been here for just over a year, while others had arrived only weeks before.

But every single one of them seemed comfortable in their new surroundings, excited by the natural beauty and amazing outdoor opportunities this place offers.

I have to tell you, it was eye-opening.

As someone who has always identified as an outsider in this state — and who only recently discovered she likes nature — witnessing these people’s appreciation of the area helped me start seeing it differently. Being out in it with them, hiking the trails, exploring the sites, shooting pieces of clay, riding a ski-lift through the lush summer mountains, gave me some new perspective on this place where I’ve lived, but haven’t called home, for the past 30 years.

Perhaps it could be that I always had an affinity for cities. I loved the distraction and the aspiration of them — the fashionable people, the bustling sidewalks, the endless food choices, the shopping, the culture, the whiff of snobbishness that permeates the air along with the smell of bus exhaust and street-cart falafel.

Now that I’m older, I still enjoy those things, but in smaller doses. These days, I yearn for places where the trees outnumber the people. I want to hear the din of crickets and the sound of my footsteps on packed dirt, rather than jackhammers and car horns.

I experienced it when Chad and I were up in those glorious Rockies. When we walked through the Grand Tetons. It’s hit me at the botanic garden here in town, at Valley Falls, along the Highland Scenic Highway, and yes, during that weekend at Snowshoe, standing atop an old fire tower at the end of a long hike, overlooking the hills I’ve taken for granted for so long.

In all those places, I felt at rest. A sense of peace as new to me as West Virginia itself is to those Ascenders.

Maybe in the end home isn’t so much a place as it is just that: A feeling. The ability to stop chasing and be still for a second.

Maybe, if you’re very lucky, eventually, it’s your own skin.

Katie McDowell is the managing editor and lifestyles columnist for The Dominion Post. Email her at kmcdowell@dominionpost.com.