Musings and Amusings

Living: Wide or Deep


For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I have enjoyed columnists in my daily newspaper (before the internet silenced the presses). During the years I lived in Boulder, the Daily Camera carried syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman who wrote for the Boston Globe. On more than one occasion, I found myself taking time to handwrite Ellen’s entire column into my ‘Good Writings’ book.

Two of her most compelling columns from the early ‘90s were written at her summer cottage in Maine where Ellen spent hours watching her cat repeatedly sniff her way through the garden; where Ellen came to know her resident squirrel so well, she could point out where nut treasures were buried.

Ellen weighed the value of returning summer after summer to her beloved cottage vs. traveling somewhere new and different. She called it “living deep vs living wide” and had this to say:

 These days, it’s possible to be citizens of the world or natives of the land. To tour or to belong. We can appease a restless desire for a change of scene or we can rest in one place and pay attention to the scene as it changes. It’s unclear which way we will see the most.

Ellen wrote of her strong sense of place in her Boston and coastal Maine homes, and was conscious that returning to her summer home each year gave her the opportunity to deepen her relationship with ‘her place’.

Reading that long before most of my US or European travels, I knew exactly which way I was happiest living … deep. The deeper the better. I nodded right along with Ellen as she described where her squirrel buried his nuts.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I know:

  •  the daily habits of my squirrels, too. I replay in my mind’s video that hilarious scene one snowy day when he couldn’t figure out why ‘that heap of cold white stuff’ prevented his normal take off from one side of our patio wall to the other, instead dropping him like a heavy anvil into more of ‘that cold white stuff’ on the ground four feet below. His world was turned upside down as he climbed that wall at least 15 times only to have his leap fail again.

Big Leap

I know:

  •  when the gray cat from three doors down across the street is let outdoors, he’s going to make a beeline for my front stoop, hoping one of the rabbits residing under my stoop will turn into lunch.
  •  how much thicker the tree trunks I see from my windows grow every year. It’s my tradition to measure them on September 1.
  •  ‘the pond guy’s’ routine when he comes to shower some love on the pink and yellow blossoms in the lily ponds outside my windows. Which pond he works on first and how he uses that orange machine.
  •  what it feels like to be on a two-week vacation exploring B&Bs, hiking trails, and docksides in the magic that is coastal Maine, and yet weep soulfully at night because I am so homesick for ‘home’.
Homesick while feasting on fresh lobster!!

Homesick while feasting on fresh lobster!!

No matter the season, when friends or family suggest North Carolina, New Zealand, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, I want to go so badly because I DO want to visit all those places. But I dread missing a season at home.


When I say ‘home’, I mean my dwelling. In a larger, more meaningful sense I mean Colorado, Wyoming, the Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest Desert. The older I get, the deeper I want to delve into my home. The more I want to learn its history, its people, its plants, trees, birds and animals.


The more I understand that my terrain is the kind where sitting quietly; listening to the voices on the wind; reading the scenes in the clouds; watching the landscape as insects crawl, land and buzz, the more I miss when I’m gone or when I’m moving too quickly to ‘fit it all in’.

I’m grateful to Ellen for naming my lifestyle – living deep – and for giving it as much value and prominence as the far more exciting living wide. Although I’ve had periods when living deep wasn’t possible – and I have enjoyed my travels – I’m consciously diving into living deep for these later years of life. My song will ring truer because of it.

Our minds work in strange ways. I opened my computer to complete the next post for my Annie Project. Then I started getting anxious that few readers or blogging buddies would find books (and planned future posts) about Wyoming or Colorado or my broader Western-centered explorations interesting enough to stick around. I felt compelled to warn prepare you that more regional ‘grist’ is coming.

Which I’m well aware is foolish anxiety. We write what we know, love and research. Those who ‘live wide’ write about colorful adventures, sample foreign cultures and show us exotic locales.




Those who ‘live deep’ write about our monkey minds, walks, gardens, tools, fishing, insects.

I’m as smitten by reading  ‘live deep’ homebodies as I am by ‘live wide’ road warriors. It’s all in the quality of your art, photos, writing. Why would I think you’d show any less interest in my chosen path?

Comments on: "Living: Wide or Deep" (61)

  1. I loved this post Sammy! It made me think differently. I have always put ‘living wide’ first and found it hard to understand those going to the same places every holiday…
    I have always thought they were missing out but you (and Ellen Goodman) have just shown that is only a lifestyle and beauty is everywhere. All you have to do is look out for it. 🙂

    • Thank you, Ellie! I think ‘deepers’ are often seen as living narrow lives. Sometimes that’s true, but in many cases, people are like me – our rewards come from uncovering layers to find unmined gems of history or absorbing the minutae that exists around us. The key, of course, is being conscious and receptive.

      I often wish I was more of a physical wayfarer, but I’m happiest cultivating this little corner of the world.

  2. I am in total agreement Sammy and you said this all so well – I’m impressed. I used to read Ellen too but I don’t ever recall hearing the term “living deep” – I love it! I return, over and over, to the same places, and I feel an attachment growing in many. Lately, I’ve even started to become impressed with sleepy crime-ridden Hartford. I am looking forward to having a AA baseball team and hoping that I will be able to attend opening day. You captured the essence of a lifestyle or perhaps a way of looking at life that suits me better than any I can think of. thank you so much for writing this post. I feel better having read this 🙂

    • Thank you so much Dan for your lovely comments and re-blogging. I am surprised when my unplanned, spontaneous posts end up touching nerves, but then I’m usually writing them to explore my own emotional feeling about something, and am bound to find like-mindeds in some of you.

      I do love to travel, but leaving home is so hard. Ellen’s terms helped me understand that pull in a way that I could embrace myself even if others don’t understand.

      • You’re very welcome Sammy. I usually share things on Twitter and Facebook (which I did) but some times I just want everyone I know to see a post so I re-blog it. This was so complete and so close to the way I feel that it made total sense. BTW, I am often befuddled by which posts get traction and which ones don’t . I guess once you hit that ‘Publish’ button, it has a life of its own.

      • Thank you, Dan. You’re the best!

        It’s kind of a crap shoot without the money. But excitement, satisfaction and momentary, senseless remorse strike me every time I push that ‘publish button’ 😀

  3. Reblogged this on No Facilities and commented:
    This post made me feel so good, I just have to share it. Whether you live deep or wide, I think you will enjoy it.

  4. I hope to have lived wide and deep, and go wider and deeper still by the time I lay down for the last time. But as I grow older, depth has more appeal than width.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Damyanti. I am probably more balanced than this post suggests because I have traveled a fair amount – often initiating the travel. But it’s always a giant struggle to convince myself that being gone for awhile isn’t going to hurt my heart.

  5. I’m going to remember this – living wide or living deep. 🙂 I do love my current state, my previous states, and the entire New England area, but I also cherish a trip someplace new. I think I like a balance of both. Good post. Happy Monday.

    • Thank you, Judy! Balance is desireable, no question. I’d like to embrace travel without the angst of missing home, but the pull to be here ‘bearing witness’ is very strong. I’ve been fortunate to travel on fabulous adventures and never regret it once it’s become a memory 😊

  6. I don’t ‘live deep’ enough. When I get a break, it’s usually because we left town. I’m terrible at taking time off while I’m home. But getting to know my squirrels sounds appealing. Maybe someday I’ll give it a try. 🙂

  7. Got immersed in your squirrels and the snow, thanks to Dan, and then when I saw the Kranjska Gora photo thought that it was a localized commercial. But then the photo in your About me convinced me that you must gravitate towards these parts a bit 🙂 I’m in Ljubljana right now – Slovenia is my country of origin. Do you wish that I order something for you at the local gostilna?

    • Thank you so much for coming to meet me. We were so smitten with every Slovenian resident we met. We saw so much pride and worldliness in your fellow Slovenians and feel honored to have seen a small slice of your spectacularly beautiful country. Great food, great companions, awesome rides on re-purposed rail beds and cherished memories forever!

  8. Brilliant piece, great inspiration. I like to live wide when I have time & means, but I like to think I live deep each day the weather permits me. Home to me is regional as well. So many places I love to visit, but wouldn’t care to live.
    I look forward to reading the grist. One surprising thing I’ve learned since joining WP is that it doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is, if you enjoy the writer. I always enjoy your posts, because I enjoy your voice, your rhythm, your style. The wisdom and laughter are mere perks.

    • Thank you very much, Joey. You make me feel good about my writing efforts, and I agree it’s the quality more than the topics that keep us coming back for more.

      You do well to make the most of your moments wide and deep.

      I have been fortunate to have friends encourage travel and once I get past my ‘deep’ I have benefited enormously from their leadership and companionship. If not for them, i’d be far too one-dimensional.

  9. As one who ran screaming from home after high school with an intent to live all his days wide (thank you Edward Abbey, John Denver and Jack Kerouac), I am coming to appreciate the “deep” side of the coin as well. Still, there are so many places to see…

    • Wasn’t there a song called The Wanderer? I’m humming it, so it must be true!

      I would love to hang out with those guys as they were then, but with my current wisdom. I was far too unworldly or contemplative in my 20s to have benefitted from such esteemed company.

  10. cardamone5 said:

    Agree, Sammy. My husband and I often disagree on staying home vs. travelling. I prefer home because I sent my childhood on the gp, whereas he has the opposite experience and interest. I wish we lived closer. I would love to watch squirrels with you.


    • Fortunately Hub and I mostly agree about the balance between home and wanderlust. We’ve each chosen wonderful places to visit and appreciate that about each other.

      You and I would be like a couple of nuts watching the squirrels 😀

  11. What a wonderful Post. I’ve had some live wide moments and do sometimes wrestle with the idea of missing out on so much World, my PInterest boards are full of places I want to go – but the idea of “live deep” puts a real thrilling spin on staying where God put you! A great read thanks x

    • You are welcome, Lainey. Thank you,too. Of course most of us do some of each, but I’ve often felt inferior to the diehard world gallivanters. Until I remember Ellen’s praise for armchair travelers, and realize we see just as much but our viewpoint differs.

  12. I loved this post and never real thought about living deep or living wide as you describe here. Like you, as I’ve gotten a little older I appreciate coming back home after a trip a little more and I sometimes feel more reluctant to leave, though I do feel like Maine is a second home to us. Thanks for this terrific understanding of what we should all appreciate more deeply.

    • Thank you, George. I can’t imagine living an unexamined life where we just roll aling never questioning who we are or what makes us tick. It would have been nice to have it figured out in my 20s but then again I think it takes a lifetime to figure out!

      I’m glad you have places you feel at home and adapt consciously to what’s meaningful as we age.

  13. Carol Ferenc said:

    Oh, what a great post! My sister is truly an intrepid world traveler. I prefer to live deep, especially as I get older. While we’re not at all envious of each other, it’s always fun to exchange our stories. We have the best of both worlds.

  14. It’s wonderful to be so linked to one place as to know all its moments from the schedule of the cat next door to the changes in seasons. To live deep. I grew up in a family who lived about as deep as anyone, never moved out of the very same village for probably hundreds of years. My father’s generation was the first to move to the city (sorry if I mentioned this before and am repeating myself :)), then I really moved. For all my travels, I am a homebody at heart, even if home is so different nowadays. Indeed, with age, our roots grow stronger, deeper. A terrific post, Sammy.

    • Thank you, Silvia. I was astounded in Tuscany at the hilltop villages where families hadn’t left for centuries and young women are expected to marry a man in the same village! How many suitable choices could there be? It was all quite charming and romantic to me as a tourist, but there’s ‘living deep’ and there’s figurative drowning!

      One thing traveling does is give me confirmation of the enormous freedoms and opportunities we have in this country.

      My Mom was born, raised, married and reared us in the same house until we moved to another town when I was in 6th grade. That was very traumatic for her.

      I live deep, but I also adapt to new ‘deep’ places when moves are necessary.

      I appreciate your comments. You don’t repeat yourself and, even if you do, I have a very faulty shortterm memory 😀 i love it when you write about life in Romania and your family there.

      • Oh, I would not want to be one of the hilltop villagers In Tuscany. It’s possible that’s why my father and his siblings finally decided to take matters into their own hands and move. Love your mom’s story, though I could imagine how tough that was for her.

  15. That’s exactly the dilemma my husband and I faced when deciding to sell our Colorado land–do we live deep in one vacation spot or do we live wide by seeing new sights? We just got back from an RV trip to Michigan and we loved it, but I couldn’t help but wish we’d gone west. I’m at home with the sage grass.

    • Hey, great to hear from you 😀 I have to say if you aren’t coming west, then Michigan is a beautiful choice. I know what you mean about the grasses here. Their beauty is very understated but I love it. Something tells me your RV will come west before too many years go by.

  16. Sammy this is a most intriguing post. I wonder if at times in our lives we may choose to live deep or wide. Do you think it is a variable? It will come as no surprise to you that I love wide, the wider the better. The problem with not knowing one’s squirrel habits is that when you go away you don’t realize they have moved into your venting system. Living a bit deeper may be in order. 😉

    • LOL You nut 😀 those dang squirrels can wreak havioc when they move in uninvited! We had to have a trapper come catch one who got so aggressive he woukdn’t let me sit on MY patio.

      • Oh it was a full length adventure Sammy. They had babies and everything but we managed to get them to move out. We turned the fan on full blast and I banged on the vent from the inside so long it must have ruptured the little eardrums of the squirrel. The parents actually grabbed the babies and ran. well this took a few days but we quickly cleaned out the next and put a screen over the vent. Wow what a learning!

      • They got in through our neighbor’s vent and chewed through electrical wiring and plaster walls! It was a mess. I think they are overpopulated in our urban areas here because theur predatirs have been driven further away by so much expanding development.

        We also have a problem with overwhelming rabbit populations. They don’t cause harm like squirrels but eventually plague or another disease will have to cull their numbers. We have coyotes in the foothills; I don’t know why they don’t saunter east a couple miles for a decent meal!

        And somewhere a rabbit or squirrel is texting about the overwhelming human problem !

    • Shoot I wasn’t done.

      I do think wide and deep can be variable, and some of each is probably true for many people. But many of us are definitely slanted one way or the other. I sometimes long to be the wayfarer, but i care too much about being here to ever have that be my true nature. Thank goodness I can travel vicariously through adventurers like you 😀

      • We all have our natural ways don’t we? Well that makes life richer in diversity. We are happy to take you with us from the comfort of your home any time. What a pleasure for us!

  17. Last week, I took a vacation from retirement. We went “up north” to an area near the resort where I once went on family vacations. It is amazing how much a place becomes home when you return to it. I knew every bend in the road, every bay in the lake, every wall and every fence. When I walked the road where I used to go on morning runs, my feet fell into the same rhythm.

    There is more to memory than just remembering: hear the sound of children splashing in a lake, smell pine sap in the warm afternoon sun, feel the wear on the steps that lead down to the beach… you can only experience these things by being there – or dreaming.

    • That is truly one of the best moments life can offer – when you really can go home again. I’m glad you were able to find your way into the rhythm of your past joy. A moment to treaure indeed.

  18. I love Sue Slaught! Don’t get me wrong- I love you too, Sammy! It’s just that she invariably makes me smile. 🙂 I kind of thought I lived both styles because I do return time and again to the Algarve (is there a choice with a home there?) and I love rootling out local spots too, but you know and I know that I’m fooling myself. What’s round that next corner has been my byline as long as I can remember. But I also admire the quality of knowing the habits of my squirrels (I don’t have any! Do you think I should ask Sue for any spares?)
    Hugs, Sammy! We love who you are. 🙂

    • I love Sue too !!! I always feel like I’m right there with her as she hangs from cliffs and rides rapids and tastes roasted guinea pig. Oh wait; she declined the guinea pig. Even Sue has her limits 😀 i am absolutely thrilled I discovered her and a couple other adventure seekers. I can be me while envying them.

      And Jo, while writing about Ellen and her Maine cottage, I did think of you with your returns to your beloved Algarves – a gorgeous place to go deep if ever there was one.

      At any given moment, we write THAT moment. I must have been feeling much tilted to defending my deep side when I wrote that post. That is who I am, but it doesn’t preclude a few adventurous journeys in my future.

      Thanks for understanding 💖

  19. I really enjoyed this. I’ve never heard of Ellen Goodman, but the concept? Oh, yes. I’ve often spoken of traveling wide or traveling deep, but I found the concept in Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” It was published in 1974, so who knows? Maybe Goodman picked up the idea there, too.

    It doesn’t make any difference. It’s one of those concepts that, once you come across it, you recognize its truth immediately. I’m a both/and sort of person, rather than either/or, so you’ll not find me choosing one way and rejecting the other. Both are necessary, and both have their own season.

    • Ah, i’m not surprised to hear that Annie Dillard might have been the first to coin the phrase. I don’t remember Ellen writing any columns about Dillard. It’s interesting how terms and phrases evolve, and origins are not always directly known. Also not inconceivable that two disparate writers would come up with matching descriptions for something. In fact, i worry some of my commenters glossed over my Ellen Goodman attribution and will remember me as the origin!

      No matter what the phrase, the concept has been lived and written about by many. I suspect the majority – like you – are a combination of both, and fewer who skew distincly one way or the other. I’m happy there is a place and a need for all of us.

      Next week, my Annie Proulx post 😉 i hope you will enjoy it. I’m very grateful you led me to Solomon Butcher.

  20. Sammie, I prefer calling you a “living wide” man since truthfully you have gone many directions in this bug, old world. I feel your wish for “living deep.” Crying for home and afraid to miss a season of home is pretty seriously “deep.” I feel you are eclectic and we’ll rounded and not just a person who stays at home, though. It really is cool that I used to cut out Ellen Goodman, as well. I liked Erma Bombeck and she spoke at my BGSU graduation. Erma used humor to infuse her stories with life.

    • Thank you for your nice words. I am more well-rounded from my travel. Erma Bombeck was a good, humor columnist. I enjoyed her books and way of seeing daily life.

  21. I really like those descriptions: living deep and living wide. I’d like to do both. There are so many places I’d love to see, but I’d like to have time to enjoy where I am now, to watch the clouds and listen to the insects, as you said. I’m tired of being so busy all the time, but one must do what one must in order to have a place to live deep. If I had to choose between living deep or living wide, I’m not sure which I’d pick. Hmmmm. I’ll have to think on that one.

    • It’s nice to have some of both, but you are right, the stage of life and circumstances certainly influence our ability to choose. Thanks for reading, Lori.

  22. As everyone else has said, this is such a great post! Although I remember reading Goodman’s columns, I don’t remember her comments on “deep” v. “wide” ways of living. I think I may be in a “wide” phase, since we are focused on traveling, but we also try to dive down as deep as possible when we explore other regions and cultures. I expect that, as we age, we will stay closer to home and focus on enjoying the depth of our home base, our “place.”

    • Thanks, Janis. I think part of my timing for this post was defensive – knowing many readers might not be as passionate about Western writers, artists and much of what I intend to research and write this winter. It’s that ego struggle of wanting to attract readers vs satisfying my own interests which might not be your interests.

      After publishing this, I’ve stuffed my ego back on the shelf and will try to put forth my best writing regardless of whether my topics inflate my stats 😉

      I agree – aging brings an urge to travel those final bucket list destinations and an urge to dive in close to home. The yin yang of balance continues!

      • I’ve noticed a real change in your writing and I love it (I loved it before, but you have kicked it up quite a few notches)! I struggle with the same things – write what I want and hope people like it or write a focused blog that has a target audience. I have about half the number of followers than you and I’d like to grow my stats, but I also want to enjoy myself and not get so hung up on numbers. Anyway, I look forward to each and every one of your posts.

      • Thank you, Janis. I really appreciate your interest and assessment. It means a lot to me. I know I have it in me to ‘write well’, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as ‘blogging well’. I enjoy them both, although the more I delve into research, authors and Western topics, the more I enjoy my time, and the more I want to write in a way that honors those pursuits. But I enjoy the ‘lightness’ of blogging, too. I know I’ll work my way through it, and I truly appreciate the insights you bring.

  23. As you can see, I’m playing catch up on the many posts that piled up while I was away.

    This one kind of stopped me in my tracks. I’ve encountered the expression in a different context at work when we referred to people’s knowledge and skills. Some people have a few skills that are very deep – at an expert level – and others, like me, who have a very broad base of skills but I would consider them to be much, much shallower.

    When I tried to apply the concept to living wide or deep, I found I had difficulty pigeon-holing myself. I teeter-totter between the two. I need both to be in balance. Does that make sense?

    • Absolutely makes sense, Joanne!

      And I appreciate you adding the context of work situations because it makes sense as you’ve presented it. I hadn’t looked at work through the ‘wide/deep’ lens, but it is pertinent there, too.

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