Ever since I left my native Michigan 30 years ago, I have been looking for home. Looking for a place to sink my roots and establish myself. I have lived in many states since then- Oregon, Colorado, Georgia, and Illinois- to name a few, but none have ever felt quite like home. I always had friendships with people in those states and other things reminded me of home, but there always seemed to be something missing.
When I first moved to Philadelphia, what I noticed most was how life opened up for me and I found my place in many area groups. I began to feel that maybe I had found home due to the many connections I was making with others and I began to think that discovering "home" was all about finding lots of friends in an area.
I also wondered if this area felt more comfortable because Pennsylvania and Michigan had other things in common. They both had Big Ten colleges in their states, both had sports fans with huge loyalties to their professional sports teams, and they shared many of the same chain stores and restaurants.
But after a bit, I realized that there was something more pulling at me here in Pennsylvania. Something more than friends and chain stores. I first noticed it when I was in the woods over at Ridley Creek State Park last week. The way the sun came through the forest and hit on the picnic tables nearby really spoke to me. The dirt path on the trail winding its way through the forest. The feel of the ground under my feet as I walked along. The smell of the woods. Suddenly, I realized I could have been in my native Michigan, the feel of the forest was so similar, so very familiar. The fallen leaves on the path, the bridges over the creeks, the rolling topography, the beeches, the oaks.
After doing some research, I discovered that Michigan lies in the Southern Great Lakes Terrestrial ecoregion and Philadelphia lies in the Northern Coastal Terrestrial ecoregion, different ecoregions for sure, but similar all the same. They both are comprised of hardwood forests and share many of the same local birds and animals. They both have understory trees and forest blooming wildflowers. While their climates are a bit different, Michigan colder in the winter certainly, they both share hot humid summers.
This pull, this feeling of home that I have been searching for and haven't been able to find outside of my native state, has been found finally here in Philadelphia and it wasn't due to just finding friends or chain stores, but due to finding a place whose natural spaces are much like what I grew up with. A place with the same ancient mysteries that essentially take me home. Home, I'm discovering, isn't so much about what you create on the surface of a place, but what a place does to touch those deep recesses of your soul. If you can find somewhere that replicates the woodlands, prairies, deserts or mountains of your childhood, you can go home again, even if you no longer reside there.
For more information on ecoregions click on the links below:
EPA list of Ecoregions in the United States