January 4, 2007

A Sense of Place

I've been living in my new house a little more than three months now, and I am fascinated by the change that is taking place. I've lived in a lot of places, and called many a set of walls "home," to be sure. But it's been a while, probably since I was a teenager, since I've actually begun to identify with a piece of property. At last I am feeling a sense of place.

I've read a lot of books in my day in which the setting becomes as much a character as the people in the books. Jan Karon's Mitford Series, comes to mind. Also, the Laura Ingall's Wilder books, or more recently, The Time Traveler's Wife, in which the acute description of place seems to compensate for the lack of chronological integrity. In all of these books, the place was central to the story. Put the characters somewhere else, and you have a different tale, indeed.

I think I sense the same thing happening to me. As I invest myself into this little lot, into the walls and floor, the attic and crawl space, I am becoming a different character. If I were somehow extracted from my property right now, never to return, its impact in my life would eventually diminish. But over time, as I continue to pour myself into this place, moving will no longer be a matter of geography, but identity.

Wendell Berry writes about this sense of place as a redemptive quality in humans, one that may eventually help regain our affection for the earth. In his essay, "The Unsettling of America," he says, "There are few of us whose families have not at some time been moved to see its vision and to attempt to enact its possibility. I am talking about the idea that as many as possible should share in the ownership of the land and thus be bound to it by economic interest, by the investment of love and work, by family loyalty, by memory and tradition."

Three months in one place is hardly worth speaking in terms of family loyalty and tradition, but I feel more rooted than I have in a long time. Ownership has caused me to care more about my neighborhood, to desire more for my neighbors. Ownership has caused me to think more about the soil and pay more attention to the rain. And by ownership, I mean stewardship, really. I know this house is a gift from God, but he's entrusting it to me. And that feels important somehow.

This girl for this land at this time. A sense of place.


Anonymous said...

Charity, Yes. Even though we "own" a home, my sense of place and belonging in that place, or being part of it, is lacking.

Interestingly, when we go back to my boyhood home I lived in most of my life before coming to Michigan and to many residences, I feel "at home" in a way unique to that place.

I think God did create us with a bond to this earth and to a place on it. I need to read and think more on this. Glad you found a place you so identify with.

L.L. Barkat said...

This is beautiful, Charity. And I like your observation about the novels being rooted in a sense of place. I'm going to put that in my little mental file cabinet.

The Berry quote is terrific. (I need to read him!! And not always just others quoting him. :)

I feel like saying more, but you've said it all here so beautifully. So, I'll just let it stand... and I'll soak it in.

Charity Singleton said...

ted -- Even as I was writing this post yesterday, I was filtering it through what I know God says in the Bible about the places he puts us. Old Testament theology emphasizes place so obviously. It's harder in the New Testament, under the New Covenant. Even as I was writing, I also need to read and think more.

Laura -- Do pick up Wendell Berry. I could spend hours thinking about every paragraph he writes. And my thoughts on place in the novel are not original, though I no longer know who all influenced them. I think the first thought of this in relation to Mitford came from a 1997 Christianity Today article: "But the main character of the Mitford series is the mythical town of Mitford itself."

L.L. Barkat said...

You remember a 1997 CT article? Oh my gosh... I'm on my knees in worship. :)

Charity Singleton said...

So I remembered the article, remembered the source, didn't remember the date until I tracked it down in the CT archives. (I'm all about specificity, you know! At least I didn't put, "from a Sept. 1, 1997, CT article," though I wanted to!)

L.L. Barkat said...

Off topic for this post...

You've just been tagged over on Seedlings. To understand this incomprehensible fate, stop by and read the post "Tagged."

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