There are places that resonate. Places that make me want to come back and experience them again and again. Most of those places for me are in the western USA. I grew up here. They are familiar. I love them deeply.
Emily has a sense of place rooted in the Mississippi Delta. I have the feeling it is also a very deep sort of place, but it is as foreign to me as an island in the South Pacific. I don’t know the culture or have an affinity for the smells or the bugs that are still around at New Years. I am not used to the mud and the water that is everywhere, and I don’t know what shoes to bring along.
The holidays went on for a very long time this year. We visited my childhood home in northern New Mexico. This is a place where I know I will need tennis shoes for the sand and some Gore-tex boots for the few inches of snow that will fall and then melt the next morning. I know I will find myself out on the desert or high on the hogback watching the light and the long coal trains flying down Route 66. And I know what the wait staff at any restaurant means when they say, “red, green, or Christmas?”
I try to find the same thing in Mississippi. I search Google for any place where there might be a trail in the woods and I do find one about 30 miles away on a wildlife refuge. It is only .9 miles long and the 9-year-old we take along is, though he grew up here, perhaps understandably afraid of cottonmouths. From the trail we Google a picture of them and decide we would probably see them among the leaf litter before we stepped on one in this winter-bare landscape. He is brave and we do get a walk.
But it isn’t my place. I also try to be brave and pretend that it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the food or have the right shoes or even know what all the words I hear mean.
Now on the way home, somewhere in Arkansas, I have just finished James Rebanks’ second book, The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd. His first book, The Shepherd’s Life, was probably my favorite read of 2015. And I think it was because of the sense of place. Rebanks is rooted to his land in the Lake District of England. That deep sense of attachment is something I think we all need.
Having a sense of rootedness in a particular place is what makes me feel safe in the world.
It helps that I know what shoes to bring.
What about you?