Wherever You Go, You Grow

I’ve been walking a lot. The hills around the French village I’m living in are covered with trails and unpaved roads and the hikes are good for me.

Walking is exercise, of course, but it’s also cleansing to be in places where you might see just one car or person every hour.

The wind has a music all its own and I enjoy listening to its recitals.

Each day, I’ve made it a point to go somewhere I haven’t been before. West instead of east, left instead of right. Through a vineyard or up a hill.

Maybe there will be a better view of the Pyrenees, maybe there won’t. But maybe I’ll see a new bird or wildflower. Not knowing is part of the adventure.

I’m an obsessive planner –- routes, rates, schedules, restaurants –- and this is a very new approach for me.

It can be unsettling to head down a path without knowing where it leads, but at the same time it’s liberating and exciting, like riding a roller coaster.

Maybe there’s a dip ahead, or a turn or a climb or a tunnel or a steep drop. I’m finding that I like the sensation of discovery and surprise.

More than a few times, as I’ve planned vacations, people have said to me, “Why do you want to go there? That’s a horrible city. Go to so-and-so instead.”

I’ve usually ignored warnings like that and never once have I regretted it. Maybe, for example, Clermont-Ferrand, an industrial city in central France, isn’t everyone’s idea of a vacation destination, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth a day of my life to visit.

It was a lovely place with friendly people and good restaurants and a unique cathedral built of black lava stone. Beautiful!

It’s struck me recently that this concept of going somewhere new every day also holds relevance for the rest of my life; maybe it always has and I just never put words to the process.

Leaving college to join the Navy made sense for me at the time but it was also terrifying -– scary and satisfying and valuable all at once. I am a better man to this day because of the skills and discipline I learned while in uniform.

A long time ago I was in some emotional turmoil and a therapist asked me where I’d be if I could be anywhere in the world. “Chicago,” I said.

“Then why aren’t you there?”

I had no answer. It was inertia, the habit of doing just familiar things, of staying only in familiar places, that had kept me from growing.

I moved to Chicago shortly thereafter and began a wonderful, enriching chapter of my life. It was a leap but I’m so very glad I took it. (That was also the sign of a great therapist –- leading me to exciting new places, geographically and emotionally, in one 45-minute session.)

Going to a new place can mean a lot of things. Learning a new word every day in a foreign language. Tasting or sipping something I’ve never tried. Telling my partner something I admire about him that I never mentioned before. Reading a new author or checking out a stranger’s blog.

Not long after I moved to Chicago I noticed people lined up every day at a popcorn place on Michigan Avenue. Rain or shine, in the sun or in a blizzard, there was a line snaking out of Garrett Popcorn. “What’s with that?” I wondered.

So I jumped in line one day and it took about two seconds to understand the fuss. The caramel corn was a dream –- warm and crunchy and sweet and rich. This was why God invented caramel corn.

But I saw something else going on in Garrett Popcorn that confused me, disgusted me even. A lot of people were asking to have their caramel corn mixed with cheese corn. “What’s with that?” I wondered again.

I can’t say I took the leap right away. Snack-food prejudices are hard to break. But when I did…

In a split second in 1984 I was transformed. The ambrosial puffs in the paper bag I held in my hand taught me as much about combining flavors and enjoying food as any thing I’d ever eaten. And they forever spoiled me for popcorn.

What’s the point?

The point is that maybe caramel and cheese popcorn mixed together isn’t everybody’s taste, but I wouldn’t know this immense pleasure for myself if I’d listened to my curled lip and stuck with the sure thing.

Muscle grows from being challenged, so why can’t I nudge myself, my mind, my psyche, my spirit toward growth as well?

At just about every moment of the day we make choices between the usual and the different, and I’m making the case for trying something different now and then. It’s a good way to grow.

Epilogue: The approach isn’t foolproof. No amount of love, butter or bacon fat has ever rendered lima beans edible and I gave up that effort ages ago. But that’s just me.

About the Author

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Clay Russell is a writer, raconteur, news junkie, world traveler and husband. He prides himself on his non-linear life path. He has been a professional chef, shoe salesman and private investigator, and he spent seven years deep in California state government. Clay lives with his husband and two cats in rural Mississippi, where he gardens and swats mosquitoes.

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