There is a beautiful trail in the County Open Space just five minutes from our house. Roberto and I walk it regularly. It is beautiful in all seasons, wildflowers in May, cactus blooms in July, Juniper berries in September, a dusting of snow in December. And always rock formations around the next bend, voluminous clouds and views of far-off peaks as we ascend.

view from the trail

The other day we stopped at the map posted at the trailhead showing the different trails, wondering how many miles we walked. The legend showing the actual distance represented by an inch was hard to read. As we leaned over the map, pointing and talking, two middle-aged men arrived, outfitted with hiking poles, hats, water bottles, and great enthusiasm.

“Do you need some help?” asked one, smiling at us. “We’ve hiked here –”

I think he was probably going to say they had hiked the trails before and could tell us which ones were easier, which more challenging, or something like that. But I had interrupted with an urgent message. “Oh, we hike here all the time, for years, we know it well!” I was so eager to straighten him out, clarify that we belonged here, that I’m not even sure I said “thank you anyway,” or “have a nice hike.”

I rarely interrupt someone, and only if there is a very good reason, like “Be careful, there’s a car coming!” as someone steps into the street. This was certainly not that scenario. He was a perfectly nice person, a lover of the outdoors, eager to help fellow hikers in need. So why did I feel such urgency to defend myself as someone who belonged here? Why did I need to distinguish myself from someone I hadn’t seen before, making sure we all understood who belonged and who was just visiting?

I shared the story with a friend, who it turned out could relate. She had recently gone to the Urgent Care facility near her house in downtown Santa Fe. With a friendly bedside manner, the doctor had asked her where she was from. She snapped back, “I’ve lived about 5 blocks from here for the past 40 years!” He was apologetic, and explained that most of those who came to Urgent Care were visiting from out of town. Of course she understood, but like me she fumed nonetheless, indignant that he questioned her belonging.

It can also cut the other way – a stranger assuming you belong when you don’t. My son whose last name has German roots and who has a Nordic look, lived in Germany for four years. He was stopped frequently and asked by locals in German where the nearest post office was, did this bus go to Frankfurt, had he tried the new coffee shop around the corner. One of the first phrases he had to learn was “I am not German. I am not from here.” He had to clarify that he did not belong. He said he did not feel defensive about being mis-categorized. Rather, he felt guilty for disappointing and for not having the credentials to belong. I don’t know how the questioners felt, having mistaken a disguised Santa Fe native as one of them. Tricked? Embarrassed? Or just amused?

I suppose this deep need for clarity about who belongs and who doesn’t has roots in ancient times when being a member of a group or a tribe meant survival in challenging times.  My example from the trail, above, is so trivial; the result was a rude lady and two confused good Samaritans. But it gave me insight about the human need to belong, and to defend oneself against the innocent newcomer who, in my case, didn’t recognize my right to belong.

Sadly, we don’t have to look far for examples today, at home and abroad.

The Arroyo Hondo Open Space trail

12 thoughts on “Belonging”

  1. Nifty! I almost did ot open this, since I am in a rush this evening. But I am glad that I paused long enough to read your lovely little but magnificent comments or rather: story!
    Thank you!

  2. What a lovely, insightful sharing. Having lived in Santa Fe for a long time, I have responded in a similar manner.

  3. So true! I have had this experience in my small hometown, too. I feel this way sometimes in more scientific settings now that my current role is in communications. I have found that folks tend to make some assumptions that I don’t love when that’s one of the only things they know about me….like that I don’t understand their work…that I don’t belong! At times, I have wanted a “scientist in previous life” sign for my forehead, haha. funny, us humans 🙂

    1. Good one, Cheyenne. Thanks for writing and reminding us that there are a lot of “belongings” — not just place. It boils down to assumptions and stereotyping, doesn’t it? The less we do of that the better, and there can be some nice surprises along the way.

  4. This reminds me, somewhat obliquely, of the way the Navajo/Dinai people introduce themselves by their born to and born for clans as a way of saying where and how they belong.

  5. Such an honest and wonderfully curious perspective Lucy. What a lovely read, having just met you and enjoyed your pie and company, you who welcomed me so warmly and made me feel like I belonged. Thank you for that, and for these words. I can’t wait to read more of them. ❤️

    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Kristin, and it was great to meet you… and share the pie! Your warm and open spirit and appreciation for where you are mean that you do indeed belong. I look forward to crossing paths again.

  6. Can relate well as my complexion and last name Cerrillo, I am often mistaken for Spanish and whenever in a
    Spanish speaking countries I am approached by locals asking me questions in Spanish. This includes Santa Fe.

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