One of the reasons that I was attracted to teaching was that it allowed for traveling and other adventures. For example, one summer I drove across country and campedout in most of our national parks. On the descent to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I spent a night on the Kaibab Plateau; as the sun set in the west the full moon rose in the east, both casting delicious colors over the formations. Enjoyed a similar experience in a campsite near the Going To The Sun highway in Glacier National Park. I think the United States has some of the best national parks in the world and I canít imagine not visiting them sometime in oneís life.
On two occasions Iíve had the opportunity to teach on U.S. warships. It was a treat and the difficulty of maintaining the propulsion system as well as the combat information center impressed me. The responsibility is overwhelming, the environment is compact, and the hours are very long. I have an increased respect and sympathy for the average sailor.
I like to canoe. Several years ago I began a ten-day journey on the James River, from its source, Iron Gate, to Bon Air, outside Richmond. You can easily throw a stone across the James at Iron Gate. It was neat to see the river widen and change as it flowed from the mountain to the piedmont. Iím especially fond of Lake Drumond in the Dismal Swamp and catching a sunset on Back Bay.
I like to bicycle. In the summer of 2000, my brother and I rode the C & O Canal, from Great Falls to Cumberland, Maryland. Click here for more detail. It was tremendously educational. Twenty-five years earlier, we had taken a trip from Portsmouth to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The people we met along the way were uniformly warm, helpful, and generous. Seeing the world at the speed of a bicycle certainly changes your perspective.
I like to travel. Iíve done so extensively in the United States and Asia, moderately in Europe, and modestly in Africa. In all, Iíve lived in or visited about thirty countries. I love to see how other cultures do things: should I wear white (China) or black (U.S.) to a funeral? should I read right to left (Japan), or the reverse? should I drive on the left or the right? etc. Culture sometimes seem to be so arbitrary that it makes me wonder how much my thoughts are really my own.
I like Virginia because it has four seasons. It has mountains and water, the cardinal and the dogwood, lots of history, and old-time southern charm. Itís a good geographic spot for me.
I consider the U.S. to be the Land of Opportunity. We are limited by our personal strengths and weaknesses and not by the system. Thatís not true in China or Russia or many other nations. I feel lucky to be here.
As an introduction to my geography class, I discuss characteristics of my ideal location.
I once lived in Phoenix, Arizona. I loved the desert and I particularly loved the sunsets. I’d drive out in the desert and watch sunsets four or five days of the week. On a good one, the various shades of red, purple, and gray would traverse 180 degrees of the horizon. Friendly saguraro cactus would wave their “arms” as I looked on. Even though the summer was real hot, it was pleasant in most months and you could always count on doing outdoor activities. But boredom is the reason I could never be happy living there long-term. It was always the same. Very nice, but the same. That kind of sameness would drive me crazy. Variety is the spice of life.
I’ve also lived in the London, Ontario region. It was flat country, sparsely populated, and cold. Snow on the ground over lots of the winter. The railroads tracks in the distance, the train, the snow, the solitude, and the song running through my brain was Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. The song and the terrain always seemed to fit. I could never live there long-term because it’s too cold.
For a summer, I lived in Xian, Shannxi Provence, China. I loved the experience and learned so much. But I could never ever live there long-term because of the crowds. People everywhere. I simply prefer more privacy and more solitude. That pretty much leaves me out of most of Asia.
The North West Cape, Western Australia, is about 800 miles north of Perth, and is a great place to live if you like outdoor activity. The 100 fathom mark was only a kilometer off shore in the Indian Ocean, so deep sea fishing and other aquatic adventures were readily available. Also, the Ningaloo Underwater National Park was close-by. In my mind, it’s far superior to the Great Barrier Reef. Coral of every imaginable type and color only ten feet from shore. Tropical fish of every imaginable color swimming in and out and around the coral. It is an incredible display of color. When you stand up in the shallow bottom, kangaroos in the background stop eating to ensure that you’re no threat. There’re pretty timid; their ears always twitch and rotate, making sure you don’t sneak up on them. The sun’s reflection off the white sand hurts your eyes. Even though the climate is somewhat like Phoenix, I probably could live here long-term. But there’s only about one thousand people living in Exmouth, and there are not many jobs. The U.S. military facility that used to be there was closed. I don’t know how I would support myself.
After my schooling, I got a map of the U.S. and decided I wanted to live in Boulder, Colorado. I had wanted to do a lot of snow skiing, and my choices narrowed to New England and Colorado. After further research, I determined that the climate of Colorado was easier to live with than New England. Because of its high altitude, the sun would often clear the roads of snow, so there was much less inconvenience to live with. Big mountains, blue sky, and the rustle of Aspen tree leaves. That’s my memory. A good smell in the air too. For a while, I lived on the side of a mountain, at 8,500 foot, with the Boulder-Denver valley to one side and the Continental Divide on the other. Sometimes, the clouds would float beneath our deck. I probably could live in Colorado long-term.
I never in my wildest dreams thought I would live long-term in my hometown of Portsmouth. I had wanted to get away. See different places. I don’t know why I was so dissatisfied with my home town, I just was. Subconsciously, I have always known that geography was important to me. Finding my spot, so to speak, like Don Juan and Carlos Castenadas. My spot needed to have variety. I get bored with sameness. I love all four seasons. Compared to Asia and the Pacific Islands, the water around Virginia must be some of the ugliest in the world. Nevertheless, it is water and has a beauty of its own. And it’s certainly easier to play in than the California coast.
Long-term, I don’t like big cities, no matter where in the world they are. I’d rather watch the rain come over a mountain range than go to a museum. City life is nice for the short-term, but not long-term. I never consciously thought about geography until I visited the Serrenghti Plain. In Virginia, you have to sneak up on animals. It’s not that way on the Serrenghti. There’s millions of animals. All the carnivores follow the herbivores, and they all follow the rain. The Moonsoon. It affects the vegetation and that affects the migration and the migration affects everything. Back and forth. North into Kenya, south into Tanzania. Year after year. I saw how the geography of a place greatly influenced the human and animal culture. I began to wonder what I wanted the geography of my spot to be like. Economic reality played a big role. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. An ideal place for me has a climate that provides some type of diversity. An ideal place has a “draw”, like a mountain, an ocean, a sunset, etc. An ideal place also shouldn’t be too crowded. Traffic jams are a definite no-no. After articulating some of the above thoughts, I discovered that Portsmouth was an OK place. It comes pretty close to meeting a lot of the criteria for my ideal place.