sense of place

A few people I know in environmental education and a few things I’ve read (Terry Tempest Williams, Edward Abbey, but also Steinbeck . . . reminding me I want to read Cannery Row again, a bi-annual desire) talk about “place” as being not just the concept of where to put your feet. “Place” is an ethereal sense of the surroundings, both physical and extrasensory (holy shit it is a word!). I don’t have the words to describe my own senses and experiences of place — perhaps it’s extralingual (not a word, but should be) — but it’s a very real and important experience for me. Moving into our current home, I would tear up on the approach to this new place on the toe of the mountains looking down on us. Each of our Crossroads conferences have had a flavor and a memory that is tied to locations, generally very specific and focused not on the state or coast, but on the particular venue within a town. My excursions to mountain ridges or southern Utah canyons produce pictures that give an underwhelming sense of what there is to see, but they don’t give the place justice. They give me, though, just enough of a trigger to recall the place, the emotion, and the experience. It’s more than a memory for me, it’s a spiritual reawakening in many cases.

John’s been triggered to think about places to meet in the summer of 2009, given a potential need to debrief the Crossroads trajectory and the fact that we can’t seem to spend money ridiculously enough in two years time. It seems like a great idea. It’s also more to do, something my body — slow on a Monday morning after a weekend filled with a lot of work, and little progress, and a grand celebration for Karyn’s birthday — is not accepting right now, even though the coffee mug is almost emptied. But it wouldn’t really be that much work, and in the long run it would save us work and frustration later.

But where? Woods Hole, John suggests, as it would be the 50th anniversary of a pivotal conference hosted by Bruner that “everyone in science education has heard of,” according to John. (I wonder if that’s really true?) I wonder if trying to recreate this sense of place is brilliant or folly. There are other places, and currently my only requirements (that could be changed quickly) are to find salty air and perhaps good scallops and clams. So Old Mystic comes to mind. Bar Harbor. Then I remember a friend suggesting a visit to North Carolina, a place I’ve yet to visit but feel a need to. And then I think of those other places that would be great in completely different ways, even without the scallops. Moab, a bit off the more beaten path but an incredible retreat in late May, immediately comes to mind. Or Jackson . . . or Portland(s), Oregon or Maine.

The funny thing is how I can’t even begin to think about the meeting itself until I’ve figured out the place and begin to feel and imagine a sense of it. It’s completely backwards and unexplainable, but necessary to me.


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