One of the more curious and frequent things that one reads about in books where people travel to other areas is the way that these people tend to look down a bit on natives who do not find the landscapes to be as beautiful or seem to appreciate the qualities that the tourist enjoys. This is somewhat curious because many of the people who comment negatively on the blindness of the native people they encounter while traveling could easily be turned against them by others. To the extent that we are even remotely good travelers in foreign lands, as some of us (myself included) consider ourselves, we are interested in a great deal of what is in other countries. We talk to people, visit historical sites, rapturously remark about local landscapes and views and animals and flowers and architecture and cuisines and whatever else happen to encounter. We note the color of streams, the local weather when we are visiting, the accent of the inhabitants and their friendliness to us as tourists, and so on. To the tourist, lands are new and exciting and offer a place to see the variety of human behaviors and conduct to examine and ponder over.
This is not the way we tend to think of our native areas. We tend to take our home areas for granted. We drive along the same routes, sometimes not conscious to what is going on around them. We go to the same places over and over again because they are comfortable. We can find our local areas and our habits a bit boring, though it is not always a fault of the areas themselves but of ourselves and sometimes our disinclination in digging deeper into those places we are familiar with. I am no less a person of habit than anyone else–in fact, those who know me will know that I am very much a creature of habit in terms of my behaviors. All the same, though, being a creature of habit should not lead us into disregarding the potential for novelty that our native places hold. It is, instead, immensely worthwhile that we should view our own homes and familiar haunts with the eye of the tourist, and see what joys we may uncover when we strip back the layers of cynicism and assumptions and familiarity and see old things with new eyes.
For a variety of reasons I have always lived in areas where there has always been something that attracted others to visit. Even the rural area of Western Pennsylvania where I spent the first three unhappy years of my life had something that drew people to visit, and that was a camp of British General Braddock whose death after a disastrous ambush near Pittsburgh led to rumors of a great buried treasure located not far from the modest and hardscrabble farm where my family has farmed for more than two centuries. Although I have not visited the area since the death of my stepfather’s stepfather a few years ago, from time to time I still look at Google Maps of the area and try to see it from the eyes of a tourist looking for places to see and new local restaurants to try out and businesses to patronize and the like. I have learned quite a few places to visit and to try out by looking at things from the eyes of a tourist looking for new things to try rather than simply doing what I have always gone and going to where I have always gone. There is a great deal of worth in blending those habits that one really enjoys and a bit of novelty to spice things up and keep them from becoming boring and stale.
In life, it is hard to balance the two. One can easily have a love of the novel that is so intense that it makes it impossible to have a proper view of that which is tested and tried and familiar, and to have a contempt for what is around us and that which we are familiar with. At the same time, we can have such a love for the familiar that we look down on anyone who does things differently than we do. Some kind of middle ground between the two is obviously ideal, where we appreciate the novel but recognize that there are boundaries to be followed and that the things which are new are not necessarily good, and must have a trial before they can be considered so, while also recognizing that there is good in the familiar and the tried and true, but that all the same that which is old is not always good either. Humanity, of whatever variety, is full of both good and evil, both the new and the old are similarly formed of different quantities and different aspects of good and evil, and sometimes the desire that we have to praise either the familiar or the unfamiliar is itself coming from a misguided and mistaken motive that has little to do with the quality of things themselves but more to do with what they mean and their context. Little is ever entirely straightforward when it comes to people, and we may know less and understand less about the familiar than we think because our familiarity blinds us to its complexity and its richness and variety.