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Over time I have come to think of these three qualities--paying intimate attention; a storied relationship to a place rather than a solely sensory awareness of it; and living in some sort of ethical unity with a place--as a fundamental human defense against loneliness. If you're intimate with a place, a place with whose history you're familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you're there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.

As a writer I want to ask on behalf of the reader: How can a person obtain this? How can you occupy a place and also have it occupy you? How can you find such a reciprocity?

The key, I think, is to become vulnerable to a place. If you open yourself up, you can build intimacy. Out of such intimacy may come a sense of belonging, a sense of not being isolated in the universe.

-- Barry Lopez

It is not down in any map. True places never are.

-- Herman Melville

Facts carry the traveler only so far: at last he must penetrate the land by a different means, for to know a place in any real and lasting way is sooner or later to dream it. That's how we come to belong to it in the deepest sense.

--William Least Heat-Moon

In every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the Earth.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In teaching, and in parenting, I knew I was "in life," not in some stratum that floated above or around it. I was also trying to learn how to be a citizen of a place—which America makes you feel, especially in a small town with endless opportunities to feel and enact your sense of democratic participation—school boards, voter-registration campaigns. A place where everyone is your neighbor, sharing gardening or parenting tips while waiting for the school bus, talking about what to do to save the downtown from the new mall—worrying about drought, or flooding, on behalf of the farmers all around us, worrying about the health of the town trees—and so on—something you would never feel in a place like Rome which blissfully would never know you existed or had ever existed.


In Wyoming I felt myself to be much more at the other end of the ghosting I felt in Rome, where I was yet another human soul added to the massive pile of soul-debris. In Wyoming I felt like a ghost in geologic time. I do think those two poles, geologic time and historical time, played a great role in my life and my creative life. Having the chance to live deeply in, and be deeply formed by, both of them, was not only a blessing, it was an initiation...In Wyoming, vast expanses of space on which few or no people have ever set foot tend to correct any assumptions you might make about the importance of the human on this planet. The destructiveness of the human, yes, not the importance. There's nothing like geologic time to keep you in your place, and just leave "place" in your soul.

-- Jorie Graham, in [The Paris Review]

Bruce Janz has an excellent set of quotations about place [here]

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Last edited July 17, 2006 5:11 am by Tim Lindgren (diff)