Thursday, September 27, 2012


“You know how to get to our place, you were there before”
“Yes, but that time I rode with someone else/ I followed someone else/ I just did what the GPS receiver told me to do.”
In any of those cases, the individual involved may not know how to get to your place.

I have found an especially good way to learn how to get somewhere. Head off with a vague idea of where you need to go and go. Of course it doesn’t seem like a vague idea at the time. I look at a map and say “Oh, sure, I know exactly how to get there.”

This past week, I was in the KC area. It’s where I grew up. I wanted to visit a particular site, glanced at the map and headed off, knowing exactly how to get there and headed off no map, no GPS receiver.

I need to modify my previous claim. Yes it is where I grew up but that was many years ago. I would have known exactly how to get there then but now the roads are all different. A while later, , I arrived at my destination (more modification of claims - I arrived at my destination after calling Sis who got me the exact address off her smartphone but  knew better than to offer turn-by-turn directions). But how much more informative and adventurous it was to have driven several miles in a few different directions, seeing many interesting sights and really learning the lay of the land. I saw a farmstead surrounded on all four by a high fence topped with barbed wire (what goes on at that farm?). I saw some very fine equestrian farms. And I saw just how extensive the former munitions plant is and was thus spurred to look up its history. 

If you have the time for some adventure, I recommend the wander around until you find it method of wayfinding. I’ve done it on several occasions and have gotten to know the backroads and byways in several areas that way. And sometimes I even learn a more direct route after taking the circuitous path a few more times.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beautiful morning

I stepped outside this morning to complete some quick chores before heading to campus. I would say that I stopped momentarily to appreciate the gorgeous morning, but more truthfully the gorgeous morning made me stop and appreciate it. Clear, cool, wet from the overnight rainfall. We’re way behind on precipitation this summer so the analytic part of my mind was saying ‘yea, 0.4” of rain.’ The not-so-analytic, free-format part of my mind was saying ‘Quiet, you. Enjoy the moment.’   So I did.

Being outside is important for me. Natural environs are a tonic. ‘Built nature’ can be too, for me and for all those people who don’t have a chance to get out into natural nature. By built nature, I mean places people have brought the plants in to. These places could be farms, food gardens, flower gardens designed to produce or show off flowers or thoughtful spot gardens that draw people in, quiet them down, get them to think. It’s nature, nature fashioned by people for a particular purpose, but still nature.

One sees large and small versions of these thoughtful gardens in larger population centers. I’m reading a wonderful book about places like that: Open Spaces Sacred Places: Stories of How Nature Heals and Unifies by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp. The spaces featured in this book range from a healing space at an HIV/AIDS center to a healing space at a prison to a healing space in what was a crime and drug ridden neighborhood. If I’m in the vicinity of these amazing spaces, I will stop in. The story of how they were built is as beautiful as the resulting places.

One can find thoughtful gardens in some small towns and rural areas as well. They are not so professionally crafted, but still make their own important impression.  Our area used to have a unique garden/book/artsy shop out in the country that had a garden with a walkway that invited visitors to stroll slowly and think. Unfortunately the shop is no longer in business. I don’t know what became of the garden. I know it took a lot of upkeep. One small town here in the eastern upper peninsula has a community garden, not the kind of community garden where individual gardeners have plots to work (a great, but different type of community garden) but rather a collaborative garden designed to get people to slow down and ponder. Built nature has a place even in small towns surrounded by natural nature.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Attention restaurateurs

Classes started last week. I like to use that first week to get a run-up to the class topics. For example, in ecology lab, we don’t get right into field data collection. Instead, we go out and talk about some concepts of field ecology. I like to get the students thinking about overall concepts that we will start taking data on next week. I also take the opportunity to talk about the role sense of place plays in conservation. I explain that by helping people develop a stronger sense of place, we may be able to enhance their willingness to work toward conserving the features that make their place special to them. That leads to the need to have some people who actually live  in rural areas so that we have people on the ground to advocate for the conservation of those special features. That in turn leads me to describe how someone interested in conservation of natural areas also needs to be concerned about sustainable rural economic development, which wraps right back to sense of place.For the rest of the semester we talk technical details of ecology, not the environment and society aspects. This first week is my chance to discuss those latter features, which I explain are in some ways more important than the science, but are covered in other classes. Maybe a few of these future leaders in conservation will take the message to heart.

Some entrepreneur could help build sense of place here in our town by providing on-the-river dining. We are a river town, yet the closest place on the Michigan side to dine on a deck overlooking the St. Marys River is 15 miles or so downstream. We ate there this past weekend and the river made for great ambiance. I know people who go literally that extra mile just to eat on the river like that. It’d be nice to be able to eat on the river right here in town. Several of us are just waiting for a restaurateur to see that opportunity. In the mean time, we get to-go dinners or bring our own picnic dinners to one of our nice parks on the river. Works OK for hand held food, but a nice sit down dinner on a deck overlooking the river could be quite special.