Other Wind
01 / July01 / July01 / July

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

Ecotone Topic—How are we defined and shaped by the place we live?

This question is a hard one for me to answer, for two reasons. First, I’ve lived in several places— suburban mid-sized towns, a real “suburb” of a large city, a small city. North. South. Homogenous. Multi-Cultural. So, I haven’t had one place erode me into form over many years. However, I think being submersed in the cultural habitats of several types of places and of different regions has made me more open and curious. It has made me more comfortable with change and left me the ability to greet new situations with hope and ease. Also, experiencing a diverse range of places has made me more aware of oversimplification and prejudice. I can’t say that I never fall prey to stereotyping, especially in regards to cultures and places I’ve never experienced, but at the very least I am aware of our tendency to oversimplify and prejudge. I observe this tendency on a regular basis living in the south, being not quite a Yankee but not southern born. I hear the stereotypes from both directions.

The other reason this question is a hard one for me is my relative youth. I can’t yet see how I’m being formed by my home in this Appalachian valley, in the small city of Knoxville. I haven’t lived here long enough, or lived long enough at all, I think, to have enough vantage. We can’t help but be formed, wherever we are, by the individuals we know, the culture that envelops us, and the moments through which we move. We are tied to place, since our activities and chances are tied to place. I’m still too close to see my big picture, but I know one is forming. So, I keep an eye out.

I can answer the question, however, on another level. Imagination is a vital force in my life. I spend a lot of time in my mind, or in the clouds, as a writer, a reader, and a daydreamer. My imagination formed in the woody mountains of West Virginia, when I was a child—when I had an unforced, unguarded, and unanalyzed connection with nature. The imagery of childhood is cradled in my brain as a gateway to imagination. The secret closeness of the woods. Quietness broken with leaves crushing under footsteps of my friend Todd and me. Crossing the barbed wire fence beyond the hilltop, invisible in the trees until it’s right in front of us, not knowing what lies on the other side. Damp leaves dusting air with scent, covering. Snowy hillsides. Clutching saplings in dry dirt to keep afoot on the way downhill. These scenes mark my birth as a pretender, as a person lost in fantasies of her own making. They have settled into the sediment of my mind’s fertile ground. I am tied to the feeling of those woods—those hiding places of branches and slopes, where I could never see very far but had so much to see up close.

Wendy, I agree that age does change our vantage point regarding place, as Beth and I (the ruling elders in the Ecotone group) have remarked to each other. Perhaps a future biweekly: Age and Place?

Posted by: fredf on July 1, 2003 09:04 PM

"not quite a Yankee but not southern born": this is a very interesting concept, Wendy. I'm curious to hear more, from you and others, about what that means in American culture--I mean I know on some level, but I'm outside it. I was thinking about this kind of thing in relation to California, which is not the West, but west of the West--and how so many of us writing about place seem to find ourselves in borderlands, either geographical or imaginative. Perhaps this is a necessary element in being able to see place at all?

Posted by: Pica on July 2, 2003 09:56 AM

I'm starting to think that there are a lot of Ecotonites out there in the woods - a spiritual home! I feel that the things you addressed in the last paragraph are very rich and I look forward to reading more at some points.

Posted by: Coup de Vent on July 2, 2003 03:52 PM