Settlers & Pioneers
Years ago, during one of my numerous solo moves, my father tried to reassure me that moving every few years was not pathological. He opined, “There are two types of people: settlers and pioneers. Your Auntie Ellen is a settler; she’s been in one house for over 40 years. You come from pioneers. We always want to see what’s around the next bend. The world needs both.”
As we prepared to embark on our family gap year, these words came back to me frequently to explain why we were doing this despite being quite content in our Ocean Beach/Point Loma lives. “We’re pioneers, not settlers. The world needs both.” Dan’s family, at least his mom, has certainly been settlers, but my family has clearly been pioneers. My parents moved 17 times. My sister has moved 12 times and visited 50 countries. I have moved a ridiculous 23 times in 31 years. (The last three, I vainly claimed would be more permanent: Lucas’s childhood home. Those who know me well all knew better.) I didn’t travel as much as I had wanted in my earlier years, so that seemed the next logical pioneering adventure.
I have an innate curiosity about what else is out there. What is like to go to or live in _____? The world is just so big and there are so many ways of being, so many different types of “normal” out there, I am driven to explore them. This trip has given us a taste of that, and we’re excited to continue the expedition.
However, after seven weeks on the road, covering 6,000 miles and staying no more than a few days in each place, we reached Nelson, New Zealand. It is at the northern tip of the South Island, a small city of 50,000 friendly people, which reports the highest number of sunny days in New Zealand. The moment we walked through the door of our chic retro Airbnb cottage, the settler in me woke up.
Within an hour, we were all unpacked, tucking our belongings into the small available storage spaces and marking our territory. The first few days we spent settling: shopping for small luxuries like body wash and bath sponges, groceries, vitamins, and finding ways to make our temporary rental Home. Yesterday I did laundry, hung wash on the line (a surprisingly satisfying activity that must harken back to some settler roots), and even made homemade chicken stock.
As I figured out how to fit my toiletries and makeup in the tiny bathroom cupboard, I realized that I like doing this every time I travel. Whether it’s a monthly vacation rental, a week in a Disney hotel, or even a few nights in a work hotel, I love to nest in my temporary home. I don’t like the feeling of living out of a suitcase. I am a pioneer to new destinations, but as soon as I’m there, I settle in.
This need is best displayed by the small dollar store item I bought before we left: a small wooden plague that reads “Home (noun): a place or feeling of belonging; a gathering for friends and family.” Each time we settle into a place longer than a few nights, I find a special place for it and our tiny family picture. I made two small pictures of friends for Lucas too. It’s a way to claim the space as ours and act as settlers, even if we will be packing it up and giving it to others soon. The pioneers are now settlers.
So maybe it’s not that simple; there are not just “two kinds of people.” All of us are both pioneer and settler to different degrees at different moments. The world needs both, but so does the soul. I will don my pioneer pack again, but for the next two months I am content to settle in and create a home right where I am.
“There’s no place like home
...in Nelson, New Zealand
…for the moment.”