Looking back at the lineup of very popular speakers and well attended programs from our recent Society meetings, it appeared there was a strong common theme….. Sense of Place. That phrase seems simple enough to understand on the surface, but like many aspects of our natural world, when we probe more deeply, we find it is more confounded than it appears. To better define this …. Sense of Place…. I visited one of “my places”.
The soft sounds of creek waters gurgling over well-worn moss covered stone ledges comfort my spirit. This particular place on the headwaters of New Year’s Creek is more than a comfort; it is part of my soul. I found this spot in my early teens when I was searching for a strayed calf. It is hard to believe that summer job was almost 45 years ago. I followed the calf’s tracks through a rickety water gap down the creek to this spot. He was bedded under some yaupon and I am not sure who was more surprised by our encounter.
It was an easy job to herd the now lonely calf back upstream to his unhappy mother. The water gap took the rest of the morning to repair and when I finished I took my sack lunch and walked back to this spot to cool off in the deep shade along the bank. I came back several times that summer to sit on the fallen cedar tree that was lodged against an old sycamore in a way that let me sit comfortably right over the middle of the stream. That tree is now dead, but the trunk is strong and well-worn from the steady passage of time and periodic flood waters.
My summer job ended, but I didn't forget this place. I was lucky enough to be able to come back to the farm to haul hay or fish in the farm ponds which let me drop in on my place from time to time. Veterinary school and the demands of my early career interrupted my visits and my expectation was that this would be a place I wouldn't see again except in my mind.
Fate intervened; however, when the property was put up for sale. I looked at the listing, but the price was beyond my means and I promptly dismissed the idea of trying to buy the farm. As luck would have it a few years went by and part of the farm was sold, but the part with this place remained on the market and by the late 1980’s the price lowered and we were able to buy the farm for our new home.
I would like to tell you that I come here all the time, but I don't. I reserve this place for very special times, both happy and sad, whenever I feel a need to find direction in my life. This was the place where I knew with certainty that I wanted to become a Veterinarian and committed to that goal. It seems fitting that I would return here when I find myself searching for guidance or heading in a new direction.
I am glad to be able to hear the gurgling stream back in full resonance after it lay dry and muzzled in the 2011 drought thru early last fall. The north wind has picked up now and there is a cold, drizzly fog that seems much worse "out there" than here in this special place. The coming darkness has put the cedar wax wings and mocking birds that protested my arrival and perch here to roost, so once again it’s time to leave this place, my place, alone with its secret stories and special wisdom until next time.
Becoming your Washington County Wildlife Society President represents a new direction for me and I am grateful for a good excuse to revisit one of my very special places. “Place” can take on many different meanings in our lives and even within our Society as well as our community. Please take time to share your special places in word and pictures with us to enhance the values we all share.
We all FEEL it. We all KNOW there are certain places that we are attracted to in ways that make these places “special” to us. We all SHARE deep connections to special places. But do we really UNDERSTAND why these places are so special? What are the essential elements of “place bonding”?
A quick Google search of “sense of place” results in an overwhelming list of responses. One response What is Sense of Place? By Jennifer E Cross from Colorado State University) caught my attention. Although the essay is too long to share in its entirety in this newsletter you may want to access and read the article through this LINK.
After reading this essay it is easy to see that a deep and complete understanding of “Sense of Place” is complicated but expanding our understanding seems to provide a prime opportunity to advance our connection not only to the land, waters and wildlife of Washington County but also our community as a whole. We hope that this article will stimulate a desire to learn more about our individual and collective “Relationships to Place” and the related “Community Attachments”.
Examining the words Place and Space in greater depth may help us gain greater insight into how place and space not only affect us and our human community but how they affect the land, water wildlife communities we all care about.