Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Power of Place

I have always had some sort of innate feeling that I needed to be geographically connected to the place in which I reside.
But what does the word "connected" mean, as used in that sentence? That is something I would like to talk about tonight.
If you were sitting here having a beverage with me, I would ask, "Do you feel a connection with the place wherein you currently live?"
If you answered with a "No" I might go on to ask if you had previously experienced it, and are now an alien in search of home.
"Home" -- that is also a word filled with connotations. Inferences. Meanings.
But for now let's focus on this word connection.
What is it? What does it mean? How do we find it, if we don't have it?
Some people like to move around -- they may even anticipate relocation. As though they are adding tick-marks on a wall -- the way our parents measured our height when we were kids. In the past ten years I have lived here and here and here --- sticking pins onto a map of the world.
This may appeal to some people, well and good.
It does not appeal to me.
I want, and have always had a sense of wanting, to belong somewhere in a geographical sense. And belonging seems to include [for me] remaining….. putting down roots… setting up permanence.
Other people have never agonized over such a thing, choosing to remain in the very place in which they were raised as children. Hometown folks. They will be buried not too far from where they were born.
Again, this has not worked for me.
I have moved…. I have lived many places. I was born and raised on the prairies of Canada… a place so flat and straight that highway designers create deliberate curves so drivers do not fall asleep on their way to Winnipeg. When flying over the Canadian prairies, I imagine it as God's pool table…. flat, symmetrically perfect, possible corner and side pockets in the distance, but so far off that you have to be God to actually make the shot! As they say, you can watch your dog run away from home…… for three days! Near unobscured horizon.
Then I have lived in the very mountains of British Columbia. Remote. Bears may eat your garbage at night -- and raccoons definitely will. Did I feel connected there? For a while, yes, then it wore off.
Then I have lived at the ocean's edge, on an island, and nothing could be more interesting and beautiful and pure. For whatever reason, again -- I felt unconnected to the deeper parts of myself. Had to move.
I ended up here in Ottawa, Ontario…. Canada's 4th largest city at last count -- an urban setting. Not quite Montreal, and definitely not Toronto.
And from that time in the winter of 1994, I have felt a steady, and ever-increasing geographical connection. This, despite the fact that when I graduated from college in 1991, I vowed that the one place I would never live is Ontario.
Anywhere in Ontario, the idea was revolting to me.
I came here reluctantly, on a visit to a friend, and stayed!
It's been nearly 17 years, and the sense of connection has only increased.
Living in its very heart, I can walk the streets of this city, no mountains or ocean in sight, no celestial pool-table to be played -- and have a sense that every sidewalk, every city-sucking tree, is mine -- in some weird way.
Or, conversely, that I was meant to belong to them.
No explanation for it. I have waited for one to come. But no explanation arrives, only the feeling itself lingers and grows.
Just wondering if you can attest to anything similar in your journey.
We live in a global village. There is no reason that people cannot end up living in ten different countries in one lifetime, much less ten different cities within one country.
Have you experienced the power of place?
Do you feel powerfully connected to where you have ended up?



Anonymous said...

"I have traveled a great deal in Concord." - Henry David Thoreau

Lovely reverie.

Cipriano said...

Ahhh, I love the quote, and know it well. Thank you. No words could be more apropos.
It's all about belonging -- The power of place is so inexplicable -- it's like honey on toast -- you savor it on your tongue before it goes down -- without analyzing that it came out of an insect's butt.
It's like a sunset that moves you with it's brilliance -- the way the horizon turns pink, orange, blue again, fading to something bruised, and then black. All the while, the sun has not "set" at all -- has not moved. It's the earth that has shifted position. The best things in life are impossible to explain.
It's like when you watch a spider creating the final stages of its web. Or marveling over the veins in a leaf, still on the tree.
Feeling connected to place is like all of that stuff. Nothing you think about it can alter its significance and beauty.

Stefanie said...

I know exactly what you mean Cip! I grew up in California and lived in several different places there always thinking that is where I'd stay not because I felt a connection there but because that is where my family lived. But then my husband and I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a move that was only going to be temporary. We've been here since 1994 and we love it so much, cold, long winters be damned, that we never want to live anywhere else (unless we find ourselves unexpectedly wealthy in which case I think we would move to London in a heart beat having fallen in love with the city while on vacation there 10 years ago). I definitely feel a sense of connection here, like this is where I belong, where I was meant to be. I can't place my finiger on what it is that makes me feel that way but that feeling is there nonetheless.

Erin in Boston said...

I feel a connection to the Adirondack Mountains and the park. I don't live there (sadly), but when I am there it feels like every cell in my body relaxes. It just feels right. My sister says she feels this way about Cape Cod.

BBB said...

I was born in England and moved to Canada at an early age. As a youth we visited London each year to visit relatives. Now each time I return as an adult I get the feeling of connection - much more than I have with any place in Canada. The connection is so strong that I have made it a life goal to return to live in the place of my birth.

Cipriano said...

Stefanie -- that is so wild -- not only do you feel the same about Minneapolis as I do about Ottawa, but you even moved there in the same year as I moved here. Maybe that was a year when powerful "Power of Place" vibes were being handed out! You're so right, the feeling is inexplicable.

Erin -- often I've been asked where I would like to live if I lived in the U.S. and I always say Boston. [Or maybe Chicago]. Thing is, I've never been to Chicago, but I've been to Boston three times and always enjoyed my time there. It is gorgeous.
GO BRUINS GO! Tonight they beat Tampa Bay to advance to the Stanley Cup finals!
[Actually, I've gotta be honest, I'm cheering for Vancouver. I have to, as a Canadian, and former Vancouver Island dweller!]

BBB -- If you ever move back to London, can I come visit you there and stay for free at your "flat" and eat all your bangers and mash? And drink your Tetley beer?
Seriously though -- as that little guy in The 40-Year Old Virgin said to Steve Carrell.... it's NOT about Cincinatti, etc., but rather, "it's all about CONNECTION!"