Wandering the same paths for nineteen years means you learn to give directions using both landmarks and street names. Armed with a dying phone, an Airpod, and not nearly as much reflective gear as Mama would like, my evenings at home are given over to walking. When I’m in the mood for some company, I send out a simple text, “meet on fir,” to one of my closest—both geographically and emotionally—friends. Inevitably, our agreed-upon meeting spot along Fir Street shifts from the hair salon with the huge scissors to the mossy rowboat on the hill to her house as she texts, “ok NOW putting my shoes on” multiple times. Having been her friend for seven years, I was fairly sure that she only had two shoes to put on, and, thus, that she was lying to me at least twice. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful walk, and I didn’t mind another five minutes enjoying the beginning of a playlist dedicated to the excursion, Kate Bollinger’s A Couple Things seamlessly transitioning into A Long Slow Little Wave / Citizen, An Activity.
Walks at home have a meandering structure but structure nonetheless. There are only so many ways to walk the same eight-or-so miles around the entirety of my town. There’s the walk down and around Fort Worden’s beaches and bunkers, great on a clear day and comfortably soggy on a foggy one. There’s the downtown/uptown loop, with a stop at either Elevated Ice Cream or Aldrich’s Market, depending on how long you can wait before the hunger sets in. Then there’s my personal favorite for contemplation and a healthy amount of Phoebe Bridgers: up to Sather Park and back through the thick brush carved by years of deer marches.
I’m used to cars pulling over next to me as I walk, my noticeable lack of Google Maps usage alerting tourists to my infinite geographical knowledge. Before she moved to town from the East Coast, I remember my grandma Noni visiting and driving kindergarten me to my best friend’s house, desperately trying to follow a GPS that was pretty convinced Port Townsend did not exist. Eventually, I had to step in, proud that five years of stroller and bike rides with Papa had taught me more about my town than a computer could know.
In late January, the Google Maps car finally drove down the streets of my neighborhood for the first time. Despite the HD photographs, I’m not convinced that the internet knows more about this place than I do. The car may have captured a neighbor walking down the street in his classic flannel, shorts, and Blundstones combo, but Google Maps doesn’t know about the fairy houses his daughter and I used to construct behind the Douglas fir at the intersection of Willow and K.
We had met in the usual way: pure circumstance. She was one of the three kids in our grade in my neighborhood, and we were both down to bike. As a kid in a town as small as mine, you’re taught to make friends with every face you come across, because you’ll be changing alongside them for the next twelve-plus years. They’ll see all of you, and the best you can do is hope they remember the good parts. But you’ll never forget your crush picking his nose in preschool.
I learn landmarks first, people second, street names third. During my first semester at Yale, I wandered down streets for a good mile or so, getting accustomed to the novelty of clear-cut city blocks. York and Chapel stretch way further than Willow and Fir. It’s a captivating challenge, learning to navigate a wider world.
Now that I know where I’m going after a few months of practice, I can look up from my Google Maps and learn the faces I see running late—as am I—to their next class. Yale is slowly but surely becoming a place where I wave to at least a few people every time I venture outside. (When I haven’t showered, that can feel like a curse.) When I learn a place and its people, it begins to feel like a place I can feel homesick for, instead of just homesick in.