Alexa Owens, ABG Contributor
This is a hashtag I use a lot on my Instagram page @countryfriedsoul. It has become kind of an ongoing scavenger hunt and a personal challenge to myself to continuously seek out things that make my little part of the world extra special. Growing up, I’d often hear friends and peers lament about how our town was such a boring place to live, and how they couldn’t wait to get out of this place and head south towards Atlanta, or somewhere even bigger. We all have varying backgrounds and reasons for why we might want to stay or go, or even come back later. But I feel pretty fortunate that the desperation others felt to permanently leave Rome never fully bit me. Chasing bigger places and different faces is certainly not a bad thing. Some folks absolutely need a fresh start in life, a chance to make their own way, or simply follow the calling of the Lord. But having the opportunity to make a life near where you grew up has proven to be a pretty special experience too.
This past weekend, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a Winshape Marriage Retreat, located on Berry College’s mountain campus. The beautiful French-inspired architecture, and one-of-a-kind hospitality whisk you away to what feels like another land—except it’s only 20 minutes from our home. As we settled into our retreat, we began to notice a trend. Only one other couple at this particular retreat was also from our hometown. In fact, a large portion of the attendees were from out of state. This caused me to wonder about all of the otherthings that are in our “own backyard”, that we locals may be missing. It also caused me to consider how many towns may be faced with this same crux. But perhaps, it isn’t a puzzle at all, and the solution is quite simple.
Explore your small town. See? I’m bringing it back to my hashtag! The beauty of any small town is often lost on its own residents. We busy ourselves with our daily schedules and routines and plan big exciting trips to places an hour or more away, and simply forget the beauty and adventures that await only minutes from our homes. This particular conundrum is something I have been thinking on for some time now, and I would like to give several simple applications as to how to put into practice the art of “exploring your small town.”
Try local restaurants you’ve not made time for in the past. Small, local business is hard, support the folks in your town who have dedicated themselves to your community in this way. Seek out events on social media and city websites. Discover the history of where you live through museums, books, and archives. This can be a fascinating, fun, and yet sorrowful process, but we will all be better for knowing about those who came before us. Go to your local Main, or Broad, Street. Observe the traffic, both foot and vehicular. Stop and smell the roses— quite literally! Nature is everywhere and can be appreciated at any level. Remember to look at billboards and hand-written street signs. If your town has a visitor’s center, stop by, with a newcomer’s perspective. Pick up some pamphlets, make a donation, and ask about secret hotspots. This would also be a great way to find out information about hiking trails, kayaking (if your city has waterways) and local agro-tourism destinations. Visit the town library and become a member (we love our local library!) Also, take time to consider all of these things in regards to the other small towns near you.
So many times, we get consumed chasing the faster-paced, bigger things that pass us by and it becomes easy to miss the beauty of what is right in front of us. Perhaps it’s a lifelong lesson in contentment that I find myself pursuing. Perhaps it is realizing the value of belonging to a community and how important it is to consider the positive impacts we can leave on our small towns, whether newcomers or long-time locals. We can all stand to find a little more joy wherever we are in life, leave places better than we found them, and treat others the way we want to be treated (it’s the Christian way, after all!) So, I challenge you, dear reader, #exploreyoursmalltown. Find beauty in the small things, the local things, the local people... and share your learnings with an audience. We will all be better, individually and collectively, if we can learn to behold and uplift the things, and especially the folks, right in front of us.
Alexa Owens is an amateur photographer, Believer, Wife, Mama, Southerner, and an ABG Contributor.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire