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Questions and ideas that might be good topics for collective posts by the group. Just tossing out ideas here: please add, subtract, edit, comment!

What is "place"? (or) What does "place" mean to you? (or) Why is the idea of "place" important in your life?

What got you started thinking about "place"?

What are your goals in blogging about "place"?

Is technology changing the concept of "place"?

How are we defined and shaped by the place we live?

Is "place" about the past or the future?

Is nature still relevent?

The natural world and the virtual community.

"Place" is grass, "place" is pavement: Place Bloggers find a sense of place wherever they are.


Love of Land/Love? of Place




Sharing Place with Nature

"They paved Paradise and Put up a Parking Lot" -- After Joni Mitchell

Twilight and Place

High Noon

Children's Place


Place and Anxiety, or Scary Place

Ancestral Place

Thanks, Alison? Allan? Maybe Beth since she and I were emailing about this today, thinking we needed such topics 1) to shed light (for ourselves and each other) about our thoughts on this issues ("How do I know what I think until I see what I say") and 2) as a collective effort to 'make public' as a means of engaging others in the dialogue. Re the above questions:

I'd suggest we pick just one. Then establish a day when everyone who wants to presents a post (of a certain length?) maybe on our individual weblogs, and excerpts to Topic Exchange, with a link to there from our separate blogs. Or something like that. Actually, the first three questions sort of go together and maybe could be addressed in a single 'essay'. Maybe we could start with that? Post responses by when? And do what with them? I'd like to see us do something concrete, now that we've gotten this far (?) with our planning. I'm game. -- Fred

To add another to Beth's list: Why is important to blog about "place"?

Maybe we should do a regular posting on place blogging topics. Say, make the 1st and 15th of every month the day to answer a place blogging topic question? Whaddya say?

-- Chris

Another idea is for everyone to write a reaction to Kurt's thoughtful post [Of Pilgrims and Place]. Is awareness of place, as Kurt suggests, something that swims against the tide of our culture and hence there are few bloggers as yet writing about place? --Allan

Chris, I like your idea about the 1st and 15th. I think we need some structure and this would answer that need. The 1st is coming up, everybody! :) Seriously, I'd be for choosing a topic for the 15th and sending it out to the whole list. I'm still not sure about the question Allan raised --- what is the relationship of our individual blogs to the collective one? -- and think this is pretty central. I don't think we're stalled at all, it's just going to take a while to sort everything out and launch this thing coherently. In the meantime, let's keep at it and try for a collective post at our individual blogs (with links to the others) sometime in the near future. Any consensus on what this should be? --Beth


My expereince with blogs and wikis working together suggests this: blogs increase span and wikis increase depth. In other words, blogs disseminate a thought over a wide spectrum of interest, because we all link to a network of people who read our stuff and who can comment on it. But blogs don't do very well at drilling down into a topic, which is what a wiki is very good at. Moreover, anyone can post here, not just us place blogers.

So my proposal is this:

We take on a topic (15th is a good date to start) and whoever wants to blogs on that topic. We also post those entries at a page on the wiki and invite anyone who wants to in the wide world to join us for further discussion here. Then the conversation can continue here as long as it needs to.

After a year, we publish the book.


So I'm going to go to the front page and set up the space now, okay?

-- Chris

Chris: thanks for your input. This is great. Are you envisaging the wiki as being part of a larger portal, or just remaining its own thing? I really like the depth-span analogy.

I think a collective blog on [Of Pilgrims and Place] would work well. It seems like a good discussion launch--about the general or the specific, and the relationship to place and bogging, and it seems as though at least a few of us have been thinking about it for some time already--perhaps intimidated by the blank comment box, as Fred explores in [Abort Comment!], but also, I suspect, by the sense that just a short "right on" isn't going to be much in the way of a conversation about something as important as this.

Beth has come up with other ideas, above, and I think we should all be adding to them as we think of things. One idea I had was to explore "Stones and Place," so I'll add that to the list. -- Alison

I think we're getting somewhere! Thanks, Chris. The format and procedure you're suggesting makes sense to me, and I especially like that it doesn't detract or necessitate change in how we're each handling our individual blogs. As for the topic for the fist collective post, I'm leaning toward a general one first simply becasue I think it will make it a lot easier for our readers to get the gist of what this place blogging thing is all about. Maybe we'd all prefer to write on Kurt's "Pilgrims and Place" topic but I'd like to defer that to the second or third one and use something like Chris's suggestion of "HowAreWeDefinedAndShapedByThePlaceWeLive" as a starting point. (One personal note : my original topics were just to get the ball rolling -- we can discard them all! I'm much more turned on by creative, open ideas like Alison's "Stones and Place" -- Beth

Hi there, it's Chris.

I think the wiki stands alone as the vertical dimension to the horizontal dimension that are our blogs. In other words, the wiki is like a bigger comments box, where we aggregate thinking on these topics, comment on each other's posts and invite others to add their two cents worth. I really do feel that there is a book in all this...

For me this will ensure that my own blog stays focussed on Bowen Island (because that's why I write it) while at the same time contributing to the discussion on topics that I care about. I probably won't post on every bi-weekly topic, but if something grabs me, I'll put it up there.

I'm not keen to add another blog to my already swelled collection, so I'll bow out of that exercise. But the wiki is a different story. I see the wiki as more than a portal. As I said it is a place where we can collectively uncover the depth of the thinking we generate on blogging place.

-- Chris

--rebecca blood here. how about a topic related to the fourth of july: place and patriotism. does love of land strengthen love of country, or does it somehow soften your pride in your country and ideals, and connect you with something that seems more real or more permanent?

Wow, Rebecca, nothing like throwing out a BIG one! I'm not sure you caught all the earlier discussion about trying to widen this to outside the US and even North America. A couple of the people I'm hoping will contribute won't even know what the Fourth of July means, at least in the sense of what it seems to mean to most Americans. I know I hide somewhere every year till it's over, having an innate fear of flag-waving. So I guess I wouldn't be a good person to blog about its relationship to place, though others might.

I do think we could tackle some more general topics early on. Certainly this is a good one and likely to generate some attention, but perhaps for next year?

-- Alison

I think if we changed it from American patriotism and the July 4th date specifically, but blogged on love of land/love of place we might have some very interesting responses. Last year I read Elias Chacour's "We Belong to the Land" which is very much about the Palestinians' sense of place. It is remarkably non-political too; he really speaks about how a place that has been farmed and tended and observed with love for generations becomes part of one's blood and identity. I generally see "place" as transcending man-made boundaries of all kinds, but if we get into it deeply there is something characteristic and defining about particular geographical areas, whether drawn on a map or not. I used passages from Chacour's book in a sermon/presentation I gave in upstate New York to try to explain the Middle East conflict to a group of people who have been dairy farming there forever, and it really helped. I'd like to see us keep this in our list but changed to be broader and more inclusive for people writing from anywhere. --Beth

Beth, I really like this idea, and not just because broadens our scope to an international one... I think this actually is sort of revolutionary, if completely simple: the notion that understanding people and their relationship to place / land will probably make you less likely to bomb them (and their land). This isn't an intellectual understanding; it's a sense of shared experience, as you mention about the dairy farmers (whose land looks and feels totally different from Palestine) who could instantly grasp the land/place connection with farmers halfway round the world.

Might you add Chacour's book to the place book list? -- Alison

OK, everybody, I'm suggesting as our first collective topic - for June 15 - "How I started thinking about 'place', and why I started writing about it". Go ahead and offer your changes/revisions! (Alternately stated, it could be "How did you start thinking about 'place", and why did you start writing (or blogging) about it?"

I think "what is 'place' to you?" is implied in this question - do you agree?

Another question: do we want to suggest a max/min word length for these posts?

And finally, how are we going to broadcast the invitation to blog each time, and whose responsibility is this? ---Beth

Beth: if that is to be the topic, then i invite you to change it on the BiWeeklyTopics page. I sort of see that page as an index to our collective blogging. We can start a new page there for each topic, report our blog posts and invite discussion and contributinos for the world. Does that sound good? -- Chris

Sure. Chris, I'll change it as soon as our core group gives the OK...anybody else want to weigh in? --Beth

Quick entry here from the Radford Univ library. I hope to issue the wiki address and also the biweekly topic for June 15 to all on our list of bloggers. Am I right that this is a good idea and agreed upon by folks? I think this is the case, and don't expect a huge surge of visitors or June 15 contributors, but I see no reason to put this off other than my own procrastination to this point. Sorry I've been sidelined by this workshop, but folks, it has been worth it so far!! Will catch up on all the goings-on by this weekend. Good to see updated stuff and we are still less than a month old! -- Fred

Hi, This is Wendy from Other Wind. Fred invited me to take a look at the discussion going on here at Ecotone. I'm glad to be included, even though I am not exclusively a place blogger. Anyway, I plan to contribute something on June 15, and in the process of thinking about what I want to say, I thought of a potential collective topic: Suburbia and Place. It think it would be interesting to see the mixture of posts this topic would solicit--rants against suburban lifestyle, fond memories of the mall, how being suburban enhances and/or detracts from respect for place (natural and and/or cultural), etc...

I wasn't sure if I should add my idea to the list above or not. I've never used a wiki before.

Hi Wendy, great to have you. I think Suburbia and Place is a great topic and I think you should put it up on the list! -- Alison

I perhaps got overexcited the other day and started a section on Photographing Place, but I've got to thinking: what about having a monthly photo topic as well? Invite members to concentrate on a particular theme for an image. These can be broad classes like "Flowers" or "Forests" or more "vaguely" defined like "Roughness" or "Yellow". Stagger the date so that it doesn't conflict with the regular writing. -- Joel

Yes, I would try to contribute to a photo topic. I like the 'vague' categories, which could show urban images (though we do have trees and flowers as well!) -- Nancy

It'd also be nice to have themes that focused in on particular elements of the cultural landscape of a place -- I'll suggest "Playfields" or "Outdoor Sculpture" as possibilities. No need to confine this to photos either -- sketches and illustrations would be wonderful to see as well. --Allan

Allan: I have no problem with paintings or sketches.

Nancy: I call my city and suburb photographs, "Urbanalities". Time of day is another defining topic. One exercise that they have people do in color photography classes is to pick a vantage point and visit it several times in one day: dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening, night. It's amazing the changes the light makes. Such knowledge is transferrable to your sense of place as a writer.

Who else includes photography in their expressions about place?

I set up a PhotographingPlace page with a couple of subpages just to start. I've subdivided the pages where the actual photos appear by environments. I suppose for urban landscapes you could include things like Cafes, Street Corners, Vacant Lots. (There used to be a UC press book called The Natural History of Vacant Lots. Alas, it is out of print.) -- Joel

I really like this idea. We have a Brazilian blogging friend here in Davis who is not confident enough of her English to blog in it, but she takes some great photographs and does seem to explore place through this lens. I'll let her know about this. I'm also interested myself. (Should this discussion be moved over to PhotographingPlace?) -- Alison

I've set up a subpage at PhotographingPlace entitled PhotographingPlace/PotentialTopicsDiscussion where we can hold forth on what topics we wish to pursue and whether we want to do this monthly or bimonthly. -- Joel

I'm sitting here in a hot condo with a broken air conditioner and I tell ya, I could really write about Weather and Place at great length right now. Or Heat and Place. [Here's a recent example!] I could do suburbs and place (I live in one), but also wonder: those who don't live in suburbs might feel limited out. -- Joel

Joel--Weather and Place sounds excellent for a blogging topic. Whatever's getting you down there is wandering up this way, and we don't like it any better than you do. We try to avoid the air conditioning though...

We don't live in suburbs but certainly have things to say about them; if others feel left out, maybe they could speak up?? -- Alison

I'm going to pass on the suburbs - never lived there, don't have anything new to say about them. But look forward to reading what others have to say. -- Nancy

Alison: I'm sure they will if they are annoyed. (And while I was writing this, Nancy did! Nothing changes what I said.) At this late point, I think that we should go ahead with the suburbs meme unless there's a big outcry. But I think we should consider choosing "broader" topics. The first two topics were excellent because they invited a variety of responses including dissents such as the one I voiced, all based on a sense of where we are. Cities and Place, Suburbs and Place, Farms and Place, etc. all strike me as too narrow. I can say a lot about all of them, but to speak about Farms and Place, for example, demands that I try to speak about something I genuinely don't understand.

My thinking is that we should strive for topics that cut across all places. For example (to take one of my suggestions) How does water affect your being in place. I can see Fred, who writes from lush Virginia, for example, having some stunning things to say about place from the perspective of what water does. Likewise so would I, living as I do in a land which sees no rainfall from about July to November. Nancy has a nice garden pool that attracts snakes to it and there's the whole water purity question where she lives. (Or maybe not.) Some people live in snow country, deserts, on seashores, etc.

Anyways, I've explained my reservations. I suggest that we see how the Suburbs thing goes. (Though if we were to change it at the last minute, I'd suggest that we use "Edges and Place" or "Peripheries" so that those who have started composing on the topic of suburbs won't have to start from scratch.) If we see a drop in response relative to the number of people participating in Ecotone, then perhaps there's something to what I have said. If not, well, I've been proven wrong before. -- Joel

P.S. Did you get my email? I send it to ali@magpienestNOSPAM.org

I share the concerns Joel mentions (and have voiced in emails if not here) that the "X and Place" may be easy to create but too restricting or else too open-ended perhaps when we set out to write about them. It might be helpful if we have some discussion ahead of time before creating topics. Suggest someone offers a topic for discussion, then we hone the question to best direct our writing in a way we all understand and agree upon... not that there has been any great unrest to date, but I can see possible problems if we begin to have new 'members' but don't do a good job of explaining our biweekly topics before hand. We can decide if we want to make any changes in the coming week or two to topics that have already been proposed into the next months, or let them stand as is, and do things somewhat differently beyond the summer months. Your thots.... -- Fred

I agree with the above reservations people are expressing. One thing we might do is eliminate the "...and Place" from our topics and see if that frees us up any. However I do think it's possible to think creatively about almost any topic and go somewhere with it - like considering "suburb" as more of an adjective, or an attitude, that may apply to all of us in some part of our life - i.e. don't take it so literally. (Think of what Coup de Vent did with her knapsack last time - it was unexpected and creative.) I think that's the problem with some of the proposed topics - they suggest a literal response. Let's do what Fred suggests and discuss them a little beforehand. --Beth

One of the things I think it's really important to avoid is being too directive. When we first got underway with this, if you recall, there were several suggestions for "vague" things like trees and place, stones and place. I'd love to add water and place to that list, even break it down to ocean/fresh/other. Water is a huge topic and would bear several collective posts.

We can invite people to think about suburbs as something larger than the "kids and cul de sacs" stereotype, but this is a smart group of people and can figure it out for themselves, as far as I can make out. I think we originally chose suburbs to try and include folks who don't see themselves as "nature" writers and to expand the definition of what place is, and who can say something meaningful about it. Maybe that goal has already been reached?

I think, Joel, you could still say something interesting about farms because presumably you've at least SEEN them, if only from the freeway? Wasn't all of Orange County farm/rangeland not all that long ago? Or am I being presumptive and unfair? (I did not get a recent email from you, btw... not sure why.)

Perhaps we should discuss topics collectively before posting them, but then we're kind of doing the collective post thing beforehand, and shunting this in a direction perhaps not everyone had in mind. Allan read NONE of the recent posts on How we are shaped before he wrote his (one of the last to be posted) because he didn't want his writing to be affected by what others were saying. It's a difficult balance to strike, but I'm sure we'll get there. This process seems a bit like one of those collaborative drawing exercises--you just have to let go of the control of the final outcome and trust each participant to contribute to a new, unexpected, larger whole. -- Alison

Alison, I think you're right. We need to let go and stop trying to shape this so much. --Beth

I do see merit to both "sides" here, though Beth's comment immediately above this one pretty much sums up my general thoughts. Of course, being male, I can't just leave it at that, so I'll expand on the idea a bit.

I don't think it's a tragedy if a proposed topic comes up empty: as they say in the science biz, negative results are also results. And - though saying this to a bunch of bloggers may be a faux pas - I also don't think it's a bad thing not to write about a subject if you don't have anything to say about it.

I wouldn't want to see topics ruled out just because they're of minority interest. I can see a topic like, say, "paleontology and place" (to choose a particular interest of mine), where only a few Ecotonians would likely take part, still being a worthwhile exploration for writers and readers. On the other hand, I can see not having much of interest to say about "trees and place" on the allotted day, simply because I write about trees in every other post. (Or so it seems to me today.)

Also - and this is the editor in me rearing its ugly head - I think city dwellers and rural fringers probably will have a lot to say about suburbs and place, even if it's only "thank god I don't live there" or "oh my god, here they come." -- Chris Clarke

Fred: I wouldn't call the danger we're concerned about "unrest", but lack of participation. If there were a "Farms and Place" topic for example, I might drop out for that topic as Nancy says she will do for Suburbs and Place. I'm with you, though.

Alison: Topics such as "Place and Suburbs" are too directive! Sure I've seen farms. They seem nothing more to me than broad fields, a collection of livestock, and migrant farmworkers getting paid cheap wages. I couldn't do the cycle of life on a farm justice, which is, I think, the reason we write here about place. Looking back over my notebooks, I haven't seen a single entry about farms, but plenty about living in suburbs and cities. I could write with enthusiasm -- especially about the former because that is where I live -- but for farms I can't see myself getting excited about. Suburbs are the same for others. Those who opt out, I dare say, are smart enough to know their limits! To quote Herman Melville: "Why then do you try to enlarge your mind? Subtilize it."

Chris: I think the whole point here is to get beyond the shallow expressions of like and dislike and get to the meat of the living. To dwell again on the farm example, I wouldn't publish a "thank God I don't live there" because I have no experience to draw from. It would be superficial of me to weigh in on farms and the writing of such an essay would bore me. If it bores me, it will also bore my readers. The type of topic that I mention as an alternative would allow the writer to reflect and find a relationship that isn't limited by a type of place. I'd love to see you write about paleontology (I'm always looking at the hills here and asking questions about how they were formed), but again, if a topic called Place and Paleontology came up, I wouldn't have much of a clue. Now, if we wrote a topic called Place and Deep History on the other hand, I could go off on my geology, you could have your paleontology moment, and others would take it off in completely different directions which would undoubtably surprise and delight us.

Beth: Just to reiterate what I said to Allison: when you choose a topic like Suburbs and Place, you not only shape, you draw a markéd, too precise of a line. I think your defense of "Suburb" as an adjective is extremely idiosyncratic. It doesn't read that way to me at all and I suspect that if we were to elicite honest answers from others, they would agree with me.

Discussion about these things is good. I note again that I am ready to go with the topic as it stands, but we need to honestly watch the results. To build on something Chris said, we must approach this scientifically and -- to take it further -- ~be prepared to throw things out~. We must guard against too much emotional involvement. It is, again, perhaps too late to change the next topic, but the August 1 and thereafter topics should not be fixed in stone at this time.

Damn! I look back at this and think I've blown so much wind that it's a wonder that I'm not having an asthma attack! (Shut up Joel! Shut up!) -- Joel

I think we can have the best of both worlds here. For me, Joel's gentle addition of the suggested "deep history" and place clears up Chris's proposed topic for me without dissecting it to death before the topic is written on by all. Maybe a week or so before each topic, those of us who need some elaboration or clarification can discuss nuances that might give one or the other of us a 'handle' on what had seemed a weak or inapplicable aspect of our topic, and make it accessible by the brief exchange.

And... we probably should send out the reminder email again, and wondering if it should contain any of the 'edge' or other interpretations on the 'suburbs' topic coming up in just a few days. ANd, I have had a few more comments and emails from Fragments readers thanking us for the Ecotone discussions; I feel good about how things are going, even though I've been sort of out of the loop for a couple of weeks for various reasons. I do enjoy your company, folks.-- Fred

I know that I sound like a contrary, "bad boy" at times, but I want to second Fred's feeling that this talk has been a good one and that I respect those who've spoken up on all sides. -- Joel

I see a lot was going on while I was asleep. I'd just like to agree with Chris, that it's not necessary for everyone to participate in every topic. I also liked Joel's suggestion about 'edges.' (which ties in with the definition of Ecotone!) That reminded me that no one is going to slap my hand if I modify the topic slightly to suit my circumstances. -- Nancy

People should definitely feel free to take a topic and go off on their own tangents. It is after all your own blog you're writing in, so make it interesting for yourself. Treat a topic metaphorically if it helps. Write a poem, perhaps, rather than an essay.

I think Beth's suggestion that we eliminate the "...and place" from many of our topics is good. Saying "...and place" for all these topics begs the difficult question "what is place" all the time. It seems easier to just write about suburbs than to try to answer the implied question "what is the nature/quality/quantity of place in a suburb", which is how I read the topic "Suburbs and Place" --Allan

Hello all! This is my first post to this conversation. Jenny from Mulubinba Moments referred me here, and I hope to take part in the Ecotone Wiki. I've been reading the last third or so of this thread, and I thought I'd offer my two cents on the subject of topics. I looked through the list and really couldn't find anything that moved me to write. But I *was* inspired to write on the topic of topics. The following is an entry from my blog from a few days ago and can be found here:



Writing about Place

Jenny from Mulubinba Moments has encouraged me to participate in the Ecotone Wiki, which is a sort of forum for bloggers who write about different aspects of the concept of "place". It's an area that is very interesting to me, but unfortunately, the schedule of topics is fairly narrow, and I'm at a loss as to how I could contribute in a meaningful way to those discussions. (That is not to say that the topics themselves are not meaningful; it's just that I don't feel I have anything to contribute.) So instead, I am writing this post to share some of the aspects of the topic of place that I find most intriguing.

What is it about a locale that causes it to be viewed by an individual or a community as sacred or spiritually uplifting? What does it mean when people of different cultures independently view a place as such? For example Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the white ruling class in Zimbabwe, arranged to be buried atop one of the Matopo stone hills, because he was so moved by the beauty of the location. And it so happened that the native population had long held that the area was sacred. There is archaeological evidence that this had been so for thousands of years and involved multiple ethnic groups. And why are some places seen as sacred by one group and not another? In Mexico and Central America, Westerners from first-world countries arrive in droves to view the ancient Mayan ruins. Nearly all feel a sense of awe and wonder upon seeing one of the major sites, like Chichen Itza or Tikal. But the locals show not the slightest interest, except in terms of how they can prosper from the tourist trade. I even overheard some of them expressing disdain for all the gringos and their strange affinity for the ruins. Considering that most of them are descendants of the builders of these sites, their reactions are even more puzzling.

Clearly the building of an immense sacred structure, such as a cathedral, or a simple landscaping project is capable of creating an environment with a particular feel, but are there more subtle ways of changing this feel, and if so, what are they? The Chinese celebrate their New Year with firecrackers to scare away the evil spirits from the past year. Feng shui uses simple rules of placement to alter the feel of a place and its effects on the mental state of its inhabitants and visitors. I once read that people who own cabins that are used seasonally never quite feel at home until they have lit the first fire in the fireplace. I haven't experienced that myself, but I have found that when camping, the site I choose to spend the night in takes on a homey and familiar feel after I have started a campfire. And that feeling remains even after the fire is out and the remains are dispersed so that no one could even tell that a fire had ever been there. Are there other rituals and customs that exist and are familiar to us, which are used to influence place but that we are not consciously aware of?



A lot has been going on here since I last checked in ... and, after catching up with the suggestions, I would very much like to contribute to the debate. As a preliminary statement, let me just say that when I first saw the list of topics, I thought to myself that there was no way I could write on the majority of them. Then, as the days would dwindle, closer to the date for posting, I was challenged and found myself writing pieces I never thought I was able or capable of writing. For me, the topic with its appended “and place” helped me frame my piece ... but I can see how for others this might be a stumbling block.

And I agree with whoever said that we shouldn’t feel pressed to write on every topic. Also, as someone else said ... there are many ways to post about a topic. A poem sometimes is more appropriate (as long as it’s written for this post, and not recycled form old work), or an account from a new perspective -- that of a child or an animal, for example -- are all ways to stretch not only our imaginations and writing techniques, but also our connections to place. --Maria

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