Thursday, January 7, 2016

A sense of place means you bring the right shoes

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?


11 comments:

  1. I completely agree, Rebecca. There is something so familiar and comforting about the SW. I was born and raised in Southern California. In 2007, we moved to Texas. I was 62. I'd never lived anywhere else and always thought I'd end up in Arizona or New Mexico or even Colorado (where my Mother was born). We always vacationed there. Now you wouldn't think that Texas was so far from being like the rest of the SW, but it was, it is. It felt like another planet to me. It took me three years to say I think this is going to be okay. When we think of vacationing anywhere, it's always in the SW, not the east or even the midwest. I finally see the beauty of Texas and it has a lot, but my heart will always be rooted in the SW.

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    1. I agree that Texas is a different kind of place from my stomping grounds of New Mexico and Colorado. I don't know what it is, but it doesn't feel at all familiar to me.

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    2. Any place grows on you, if you give it a chance.

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    3. That is true Michele! I lived in Reno for 6 years after all. I hated it when I first moved there, but it was okay after awhile. Still, I didn't stay, though I might have if I had been able to move to the mountains.

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  2. My "place" will always be the Pacific Northwest. Born in Montana, growing up there and in Eastern Washington and then spending a number of years in the Seattle metro area, I feel like the whole region is home. When I'm driving back up there, I start to feel at home about halfway through Oregon. I loved my ten years in Phoenix and I love living where I am now in Northern California but neither one is truly my place. Okay...now I need to plan a trip to Seattle...

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    1. There are some fantastic tapestry weavers in Seattle and the surrounding communities. Just saying...

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  3. I was born and bred in the Midwest, but it wasn't until I spent time in the Northwoods of Wisconsin that I really felt rooted. It's a special combination of land and people that contributes to a sense of place. Great writing, Rebecca - you nailed it!

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    1. Thanks Donna! I can imagine loving the place you live. I wan't so fond of Appleton where I went to college, but I could love the lakes and woods of northern WI.

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  4. My sense of place is also deeply rooted, but in New England. I grew up in rural Massachusetts, in "apple country" and feel most at home in the fields, orchards, woods and stone walls. I live in Maine, close to the coast, and I love it but it's different from the woods and low mountains in NH, Vermont and Massachusetts. I loved your post when you could see the Rockies; I feel the same when I see the monadnocks and drumlins near my real home.

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  5. A sense of place is an interesting thing. I grew up in central Pennsylvania and lived in quite a few places in the northeast and elsewhere before moving to El Paso, TX (which is not "quite" TX!).......then here to NM. I felt at home immediately when I hit the southwest. In high school (a long time ago!!) I painted one of those velvet paintings of a desert scene with cactus which hung in my parent's PA farmhouse!.....very fitting...:) The desert must have been in my blood.....and weaving, of course, which I found in Michigan but really fell in love with in the southwest. Happy New Year!

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  6. My place is your place. I've fallen hard in love with the high desert. My mom lived in Arizona and I love it there, but her memory is tucked into every rock and sunset. It is hard for me to go home there and not feel her. New Mexico feels like home, but without the crush of ghosts of people and places. And yes - I'll have Christmas please.

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