Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Power of Place

I recently finished reading Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. I enjoyed it and recommend it. Ms. Norris and her husband, both New York City poets, chose to move onto Ms. Norris’ grandparents’ farm after the grandparents had died. Norris is also a lay Presbyterian minister and a Benedictine oblate. In this book, she shares her growth as a resident of theHope, South Dakota area and the Great Plains in general and how she taps into its spiritual power. A few quotes might give you an idea of Norris’ views on sense of place and the power of place like the Hope, South Dakota area. “I wonder if a church like Hope doesn’t teach the world in a way a monastery does, not by loudly voicing its views but existing quietly in its own place.” She further wonders whether, “American’s urban majority…might be seen as immigrants to a land of asphalt and cement...[that] require access to the spirits of land and place…spirits [that] cannot be transported or replaced.” After finishing the book, I Googled “power of place” to see what else was out there on that topic. Many of the resulting web pages were for urban planning (creating places), some were on special places one can go for a healing reconnection with land. The latter made me realize that instead of living in places that drive us crazy then having to find a healing reconnection with a special place, we’d be healthier if we have a continuing, healthy connection with the land in which we live and work, just as preventive medicine says ‘we’ll help you stay healthy’ and not just ‘we’ll fix you when you’re sick.’ One predictor of health is whether one feels in control of one’s life vs. feeling pushed around by events. I haven’t seen the research on it, but I imagine that another predictor of health could be a healthy appreciation of the land on/with which one lives.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A couple of nice fall weekends

This time of year, with the shorter days and evening meetings at school, outside work on the place is limited to weekends. Sometimes the weather doesn’t respect that schedule. But the past two weekends provided nice weather to work outside at least on one of the weekend days. We were able to clear off what should be cleared off and cover up what should be covered up. The gardens and hops yard are now tucked in for the winter. The shorter days are all the sudden much shorter with the time change. Time change is always hard to get used to. The early dark just seems to sap our energy. We come home in the dark, make dinner, but then rather than working outside after dinner, denning behavior takes over (and by denning behavior I mean falling asleep early in the family room). This past Sunday, we got some outside work done early then headed out on a supply run (and very nice lunch) to our next larger town (Petoskey). Regardless of how many times I cross the Mackinac Bridge, the straights -- that expanse of water with the collection of islands viewed from 200' up -- still amazes me. As does the view of the Little Traverse Bay from Petoskey and as does any view of the St. Marys River up here. The view at Petoskey especially struck me this time. As you drive to the north from the south part of town, you see out over Little Traverse Bay, with the state park to the east and Harbor Springs to the north and open Lake Michigan to the west. I felt like stopping people and saying, “stop right now and look at this view!” Don't think I wouldn't do that. I was at a small group meeting of teachers in Petoskey a few years back. During lunchtime announcements, my announcement was "before you come back to the session, be sure to step outside and look out over the bay and remember why we live on the Great Lakes." A wide landscape perspective like that makes a place more special to me. Being trapped in a narrow viewpoint makes me claustrophobic. But it’s only natural that people who live in areas of spectacular scenery would get accustomed to it and take it for granted. But this time I didn't stop and make anyone look. Maybe they all were as they were going about their errands and business. But I’d be curious to know how many do and how many don’t even notice anymore. I often posed that same question to myself when we lived out west where the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains formed the western backdrop. I pose that same question here in the Sault, sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud. This past summer, one of our local enviro-groups decided to try to help people remember that we live in some great scenery. “Lunch on the River” offered people an excuse for bringing their lunch to one of our riverfront parks. In our series of four events, we were at four different parks. We did not provide lunch. We did not have a formal meeting agenda. We had informal informative presentations and friendly discussions about upcoming parks and habitat projects people could get involved in. But the real purpose of each event was simply to get people to take time out from their hectic days and come look out over the river even just briefly over lunch. We’d get a dozen or so people and they seemed to appreciate the excuse to come to take the break and let the landscape perspective recharge them. I hope some stay in the habit and every now and then remember to stop and look and see what we have.