Where the Heart Is

The other day I read something on The Guardian website that fascinated me more than it probably should have. It was a column written by a gentleman by the name of Wilf Davies, a farmer in Wales. Mr. Davies is 72 years old and has lived in the same place his entire life. He has only ventured out of Wales once, and that was just over the border to England. To put that in American perspective, imagine traveling out of your state only one time in your entire life.

The headline for the article is, “I’ve Had the Same Supper for 10 Years.” I linked the full article above, but here are excerpts from the first few paragraphs to give you an idea of this man’s life over seven-plus decades:

“I have lived in the Teifi valley, in west Wales, all my life: 72 years. I’m a farmer and look after 71 sheep. My boyhood was spent helping my family on the farm. I have never wanted to run away from it, even as a young lad. This valley is cut in the shape of my heart. I once visited a farm in England, about 30 years ago; that was the only time I left Wales.

Many of the friends I grew up with left to find work in the big cities. As a young man, I was offered a job in Scotland on the oil rigs, but I could never leave. My heart belongs here with the birds and the trees. I knew, if I left, I’d be thinking about my valley the whole time, so what would be the point? All I want is right here.

I have a routine, just like nature. That extends to what I eat. I’ve had the same supper for 10 years, even on Christmas Day: two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits (cookies) at the end.

When I go to the supermarket, I know exactly what I want. I’m not interested in other food. I’ve never had Chinese, Indian, French food. Why change? I’ve already found the food I love. It would be a job to alter me.”

I encourage you to read the full column to find out more about why Mr. Davies feels the way he does, his relationship to the land, and the peace he has in knowing that he has found his world (indeed, was born into it), and has never wanted or sought anything else. It’s a fascinating peek inside the life of someone who has basically sat out the hyper-mobile hustle and bustle of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This man is living an existence I didn’t think was even possible anymore, and certainly never applied to me and many of the people I know. He is everything many of us are not and never have been. Anchored to the soil. At one with his surroundings. Imbued with a sense of home and place that seems welded into his bones. Never questioning where he belongs – or why he belongs there.

I can only view his experience through the lens of my own. And in that respect, his life is so foreign to me he might as well live in another galaxy. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way, either. I have never felt anchored in place my entire adult life. I’ve felt at home, yes, no matter where I’ve lived. I’ve settled in for a spell, usually a few years. There were times when I thought I might plant myself somewhere for the long haul, but it never panned out.

Since graduating from college 39 years ago, I have lived in a dozen different cities and towns, across seven different U.S. states, on two different American coasts, and on two different continents. I’ve lost track of how many different dwellings I’ve lived in. More than two dozen.

I certainly don’t ever remember feeling that I had found my final stop along the road. I don’t feel it here in London. I didn’t feel it before we moved to London. I probably won’t feel it after we leave London. I might be happy in any number of places – and have, in fact, been pretty happy and content almost everywhere I’ve lived. But there always came a point when the itch to move along reared its head again.

This roaming didn’t end with marriage and family, either. Since starting our family 12 years ago, we’ve already lived in three different homes in three different municipalities, and in two different countries on two different continents. We haven’t moved just for the sake of moving. One move was based on wanting to be closer to the dynamics of a big city, and in a better school district. Another was based on an overseas career opportunity.

We’re hardly alone in this. The world is a much more mobile place than it used to be. People pick up and relocate all the time, whether they foresee it or not.

One of my best friends likes nothing more than staying at home and working on the house and yard. He has told me more than once that he has very little interest in traveling, seeing the world, or uprooting himself. He and his wife bought a house about 30 years ago and figured they’d stay there forever. But after their kids graduated from college, his career suddenly got upended, and he had to go back out on the job hunt.

He ended up moving to another state for work, sometime around his 50th birthday. Up until then he had lived in only one state, though he had traveled to many. They have since moved again, back to his home state, but to a different city.

Another of my best friends has had the opposite trajectory. He spent the first 30 years of his adulthood bouncing all over the world in his career as a military officer and then a government official. I believe he and his European wife have lived on four continents – Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. They would pack up and go every two or three years. It was the nature of the work. But over the last dozen years, they seem to have settled into what is probably a permanent residence. They live in a big city on the U.S. east coast, have good careers they enjoy, and are rooted enough in their present home that they’ve already done a couple of major DIY renovations.

Other people close to me are much more homebound, and have not been bitten by the wanderlust bug. And yet even they have had to move from one town or dwelling to the next for career or financial reasons. I can’t think of a single person who has lived in their same home their entire lives. It is next to impossible to do that anymore, unless you inherited land from your forebears, and you have the means to keep supporting yourself on it.

That seems to be the case with Mr. Wilf Davies of Teifi Valley, West Wales. He is part of a world that used to be fairly normal, but stopped being that a long time ago, when the first engines cranked up, and the industrial revolution soon followed.

One of the most interesting parts of The Guardian article was the comments section. Many commenters agreed that Mr. Davies’ life is one to be admired. He has a bond with nature that few of us can replicate, and a deep connection with his surroundings. Others felt his life reflected a lack of curiosity, imagination, and risk taking.

Personally, I just think the guy likes where he is, and doesn’t demand more out of life than what’s right there in front of him. As he says, the valley is cut in the shape of his heart. I wish him all the best. No need to say more.

Except for one thing. There’s no way I’m eating the same supper every night for 10 years.

How about you?

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