Finding Our Place

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

It is rare for any of us, by deliberate choice, to sit still and weave ourselves into a place, so that we know the wildflowers and rocks and politicians, so that we recognize faces wherever we turn, so that we feel a bond with everything in sight.”

Scott Russell Sanders, “Local Matters”

Place 1

|Photo by Muffet||

Some dozen years ago I went on a road trip with my grandfather to our ancestral home in Arkansas.  Leaving from upstate New York at this time of year was not exactly a recipe for easy driving and awe-inspiring views.  After a particularly dreary stretch in Ohio, I was ready to snooze the rest of the way when we crossed over into Kentucky.  Suddenly things opened up.  As we continued south on Route 75, I felt my body started settling into the lovely rolling farm-studded landscape.  I remember how my breathing eased and the extraordinary sensation of “being home,” though I had only been to the state once before.

I realize now how reminiscent that landscape is to other places that have left me with similar feelings of being home – the Finger Lakes region of New York, western Massachusetts, southeastern Vermont.  While there are family ties in many of these areas, something more than the people pulls me in.  It’s a sense of connection to the contours of the land itself, a feeling of really knowing the hills, trees, rivers, meadows.  It’s a relationship I cherish and one that I know is too estranged right now.

bell hooks’ recent book, Belonging: A Culture of Place, is a beautiful exploration of our relationship to place as both community and landscape.  hooks recently returned to her native Kentucky, and a teaching post at Berea College, after many years of searching for somewhere to belong.  Reflecting on her unexpected homecoming, she realizes there is no other place for her to be given the bonds (albeit strained) of family, as well as her affinity for the hills and hollows she loved as a child.  Beyond her personal experiences, hooks discusses the profound loss others have felt as a result of being disconnected from places (and practices) that sustain them.  And she writes that movements for social justice cannot be built on such impoverished relationships.

Along these lines, I’ve been thinking that there is a big difference between residing in and inhabiting a place.  And I believe this difference has a lot to say about whether we are simply consumers or also creators, observers or also participants, and if we are in this for the long haul.  I’m feeling the need to dig in more deeply.  You?  What’s the place of place in your own change efforts?

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  • Gibran says:

    Lovely reminder Curtis. Local draws me. I am increasingly uncomfortable with the contradiction found in traveling from place to place inviting people to build community. It is my intention to craft a life that is grounded in place. Seems like this is taking a while, but it is my direction. Posts like this one are like stars in constellations that guide my navigation home.

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks, Gibran. Harkening back to your post about freedom, I was really struck in hooks’ book by her commentary about those (including herself and many of her family members) who have left not just rural areas, but practices such as farming, for an imagined life of freedom in the city. She recognizes this has backfired in many cases, where people now find themselves more constrained and dependent as consumers but not producers of their own food and leisure time, and having access to much less space overall. To me it comes down to being more disconnected from the sources of our life and not just livelihood.

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