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While I'm content here in West Virginia for the time being, for the past 5 or 6 years, I've felt the draw to explore some new horizons. Since my job (both video and web) is internet-based and location-independent, I have the ability to move pretty much anywhere I want without a huge impact on my career. I have no real practical reason to move, it's more for the change of scenery and the adventure of living in new places.
My only requirement for a home is a place where I can see as much sky as possible. No windows looking at the side of a mountain, a forest or a brick wall. Most of the areas that I've become partial to are those that I've traveled through many times (hence the I-64 corridor bias), and therefore have become familiar with.
You've heard me say the phrase 'Lord willing' many times before. I don't just say that to sound spiritual - it's a principle I take seriously (as scriptures say I should). I have many plans, but it is the Lord that directs my path, as a verse in Proverbs says. I don't know if I'll ever do any of these things I talk about - but if my desires are in line with the Lord's plans, anything's possible. It's not a bad idea to think major life decisions like these through a little, therefore the reasoning behind this 'post of my thoughts'.
So here is a list of places, in no particular order, where I have pondered as choices for future residencies.
Southwestern Kansas / western Oklahoma
No terrain and location is as appealing to me as the western Great Plains. Flat, open, few trees and of course, severe storms in the spring. Houses bigger than the one I live in now are selling for a half to a third of the cost in rural Plains towns. And it's not really the storms that primarily pull me toward these areas. The prospect of walking out my back door and down the road a short distance to a 360-degree view of the sky is something I've felt drawn to, ever since I first experienced that type of scene. Sunsets, stars and of course distant storms at night are views unmatched anywhere else in the country. When the sky is that big, even the most routine twilights and sunrises are something to marvel.
But as much as I love the Plains, there are some drawbacks that I'll have to work through to decide whether a move there would really be what I'd think it would be. First of all is the isolation. I'm a natural loner, but being by myself in a sparsely-populated region with few others my age does not sound healthy. Visiting family back east (or them visiting me) would become very expensive and therefore infrequent. All told, a move to rural western Kansas might as well be like a move to Antarctica, just not as cold and with a gas station in town to buy groceries.
With real estate so cheap on the Plains, I've entertained the idea of simply investing in a house out there as a 'second home'. That would solve the isolation/family distance issues while still allowing for a sense of 'adventure' of living in a new place. If I started missing things back east, I could just jump in the car, pack a few bags and go back whenever the inclination hit me.
Lexington is a good sized city with a small-town feel. What I like about the area is the rural rolling hills around the city, with plenty of open horse pastures good for storm observing and photography views. Lexington is far enough away to be a 'new place', but close enough to not make family visits major trips. I'd likely choose somewhere on the outskirts of town, as property is more expensive closer to the city.
St. Louis, Missouri / O'Fallon - Shiloh - Lebanon, Illinois
St. Louis has always been high on my list - it has always felt good to roll into this town. Seeing the arch has always meant I'll soon be seeing big storms in the Plains. A major city with plenty of opportunity and things to do, St. Louis is also a nice strategic location for storm observing. I think of St. Louis almost as the 'eastern Denver', a major city on the eastern side of Tornado Alley, with easy access to Plains and midwestern chase targets. As far as a place to live in the STL area, I like the Illinois side the best (obviously not east St. Louis, but east of Fairview Heights, out of the Mississippi Valley). The outlying areas along I-64 in Illinois are Plains-like, rural with flat land, open skies and good roads. More than enough to satisfy my 360-degree sky view requirement, while still being within a reasonable distance to friends and family back east.
Mt. Sterling - Owingsville, Kentucky
This area east of Lexington is another place that just feels 'comfortable'. Traveling west on I-64, you've just exited the Appalachians and are getting more open skies and rolling hills by the time you reach Owingsville. Housing is relatively cheap in this area. I like this location due to its close proximity to West Virginia (only about a 2 hour drive east), yet it is outside of the mountains - making storm observing more fruitful.
Thanks to storm observing friends, I've spent a lot of time getting familiar with Tulsa. Another great observing city, with easy access to the rest of the Plains. Broken Arrow, Claremore and some of the small towns on I-44 northeast are all places I'm comfortable with. Again, my affinity for this area is also due to the association with arriving from West Virginia at the start of a weather expedition.
Cynthiana - Poseyville - Warrenton, Indiana
Southwestern Indiana has always had a great feel to it. The rural areas along I-64 are great observing country - and having the Evansville metro nearby would be convenient. While not as flat, there are still plenty of open skies and 360-degree views to be had, particularly across the Wabash River into Illinois.
Louisville, Kentucky / New Albany, Indiana
While Louisville doesn't fulfill my 'open sky' requirement, it is still a great place that has the 'comfortable' feel that alone makes it a possibility. I like the eastern and northeastern suburbs best, along I-64 and just inside the Gene Snyder freeway. The Indiana side, about 10 miles west of town, is also a nice area. Higher real estate prices will make Louisville a more difficult prospect, but it's still an area I'm planning on looking at in more detail.
Joplin, Missouri / Baxter Springs, Kansas
Another on-the-way-to-the-Plains spot, this tri-state area (Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri) along I-44 is another 'comfortable' place I've considered. The main benefit (in logistical terms) is that after a spring storm observation day, I'd be heading toward home with the storms as they moved east. Terrain is not as favorable here for flatness and 360-degree views, but some can be had within a short drive east or north.
Raleigh, North Carolina
You'd think that out of all the places on my list, Raleigh would be the underdog candidate. It's to the east, opposite in the direction I want to go, farther from the storms of the Plains and midwest, full 360-degree views are not very easy to find, real estate prices are high and it's just generally an out-of-character region when compared to all of the others I've mentioned. But Raleigh is actually very high on the probability scale, pending some yet-to-be worked-out details.
So why Raleigh? Due to family connections and roots in North Carolina, I have spent quite a bit of time in the area, even living there for 3 months in the summer of 2007. It's a very comfortable place to live, with lots of opportunity, a great economy and family living close. Winters are mild, and summer storms are frequent along the coastal plain to the east of I-95. Wrightsville Beach is a little over 90 minutes down I-40 (I'm not a huge beachgoer, but I'd take advantage of it if I was that close), and Atlantic hurricane expeditions would be very cheap and logistically easy ventures.
Living in Raleigh would add another 5 hours each way to my trips to the Plains, and make I-40 the preferred route westbound rather than my long-favorited I-64. However, the Plains trips only happen once a year, making that a negligible factor. Not only that, but the Plains 'second home' would still be a viable option at some point in the future - providing the best of both worlds.
Charleston, West Virginia
Charleston is my birthplace and my hometown. I have always loved the easily-accessable scenery and outdoors opportunities afforded by living in the Appalachians. Aside from my relatively brief residency in Pennsylvania, Charleston has always been home, and the source of lifelong memories from childhood all the way to today.
But West Virginia has become a 'desert' of sorts for me. With the passing of my Grandmother last month, I'm now the only Robinson/Wiggins left in a place that was once the 'hub' of our family. The egress of people my age has produced an unhealthy isolation, and the economy limits income potential to a perpetual "just getting by" state. Looking at all practical factors, there is not much left that makes me want to stay.
In the short term, I have enough projects ongoing here that I'm not leaving anytime soon. And I may never get the opportunity to leave, but again, it's in God's hands - and I'm content to let things play out however He sees fit.
* * *
So will I ever actually move? If given the chance, yes. It may be next month, next year, or 10 years down the road - but unless West Virginia delivers on some significant reasons to stay, it will always be on my mind.
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