STORY of a STAYCATION

WORDS & IMAGES: KATE WEINER

Since graduating college last year, I've been moving around a lot. There's both a sense of sweet liberation and of loss in packing and unpacking and packing my stuff so often. I can sense the way it's grown me; with each move, I feel more able to weather change, more adept at navigating new experiences and emotions. I'm learning how to be where I am when I'm there and to let go when I leave.

After a dizzy April spent traveling from Marin to Minneapolis to Mexico for work and play, I rang in May on a beach in Baja California. It was beautiful to be with my friends, to drink in the sun and silly dance on rooftops. But as I drove home, the slate of development along the coast left a lump in my throat. Tourism can be both an instrument for ecological conservation and a weapon for erosion. I watched as cliff sides were stripped of plants to make way for hotels. And I thought to myself with absolute certainty: I don't want to be a part of this system.

I love to travel. I love to hike new routes with my brother, to discover cities with my mother, to visit family friends abroad, to road trip with my girlfriends. Travel sparks my creative spirit and affirms the why of what I do. I want to travel, however, in a way that honors the earth and the social, ecological, and cultural community I am entering into. What does it mean to travel lightly? Although we've explored this question several times before on Loam (read the latest here) it's nevertheless a vital conversation to continue. I know I won't forgo plane rides ever again—to do so would be to give up seeing many of the people I most love in this world. I also know that my desire for distant adventures has been tempered by a newfound passion for growing where I am planted. It's true that I've been dreaming of bike rides and hot springs in Iceland. But I no longer feel that I have to go far to feel reinvigorated. More and more, my dream vacations center on shared experiences growing some kind of green. 

To some extent, every step we take leaves an imprint on this world. How then, can we take steps that pay it forward? How can we transport ourselves in a way that nurtures nature? How can we move tourism away from depletion and toward restoration?

The (partial) answer to these big questions might be embedded in the simple act of a staycation. In her gorgeous photo essay The Neighborhood Naturalist, Loam columnist Alison Znamierowski writes about discovering "microlandscapes" in her own corner of the snowy Maine woods. Alison's essay reawakened me to the beauty I've been walking through every single day. She made me want to sit still and see.

I'm moving again at the end of this month to soak up a summer in Colorado organizing Loam workshops with Nicole (hope you are as excited as we are to do some serious loaming!)  And so in the spirit of both celebrating my last month in SoCal and practicing the act of being here, I took four days to truly live where I am. I didn't leave my neighborhood, I didn't jump into a Lyft. I went as far as my legs would carry me—and that's pretty far. Below, a little bit of what I learned from my staycation of sorts.

GENEROSITY ABOUNDS

The nice thing about a staycation is that although I was working (fortunately from home this week) I didn't really have anywhere to be. I felt more comfortable relaxing into long conversations with strangers and welcoming interactions with passerby. This generosity of spirit seeped into every aspect of my life. I found that when I was generous with my time, people were generous with theirs in turn. At the local farmers' market, a vendor gifted my friend and me a free meal when our cards didn't work. When I went to pick up a present for some family friends at my favorite neighborhood nursery, the gardener remembered my air plant had died (yes, I somehow killed an air plant) and gave me a new one free of charge. These simple acts of kindness reshaped how I saw my surroundings and made me feel connected to my community.

EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS CHANGING

The neighborhood I live in is pretty much a mile long and a mile wide. But there is so much to see—ocean vistas, succulent-studded front yards, anarchist libraries, guerrilla gardens—that I can't imagine being bored again. I shook up my standard walking route by choosing to explore streets that were out of the way or oft neglected. I never walk up the street next to my street. I had always thought: why would I? It didn't go anywhere I wanted to go. I discovered, however, a plethora of treasures just around the corner from where I live.

What's more, each walk was always different because everything is always changing. Sedums bloom and fade; art pops up and washes away in the (rare and sweet) rain. The sunset is never the same. I realized I didn't truly know where I live, not yet, and that I likely never would. And that's a good thing.

FUN IS FREE

The most budget-friendly travel option will always be a staycation! When I stayed where I was, I was delighted to discover that there was so much fun to be found in working with what I had. I invited friends over to walk Sunset Cliffs. We watched surfers ride the end-of-day waves and wrapped ourselves up in blankets as the sun sank pink-orange-electric blue into the Pacific. I spent an entire afternoon cooking up beet sliders with a friend using the odd leftovers (broccoli stalks, stale bread, cashews) to make something delicious. Simple as these experiences were, each was suffused with a sense of expansive joy. Especially in light of my leave, I've been anxious about checking things off of my to-do list. But staying where I was reminded me I can do a lot just by "doing nothing."

Where will your staycation take you? Share your stories with us at loammag@gmail.com. Here's to growing where you're planted!