A Sense of Place

The full post of this article is an excerpt from my forthcoming BIO project, an autobiography.

I’m blessed to have explored John Muir’s Range of Light, but wilderness depends on where you find it. It is all beautiful when we learn how to see. I believe we’re all partly self-defined by direct experience of the richness of nature, and obtain our sense of place and belonging from that experience. Just as we can peer into the heavens with a telescope and bear testimony to the miraculous complexity of our universe, so too can we step into our back yard and revel in the layered density of life on Earth. And the odd thing is, for this experience it really doesn’t matter whether we live on the edge of Central Park or the sands of the Sahara.

I write of my High Sierras, and earlier of the sweet scent of pine on the Carry Road in the wilderness around Middledam, Maine. And I write of the austerely beautiful Sonoran Desert and the profound quiet of such places. I write of those places because they are the ones I know best firsthand.

If we somehow escape all those experiences, cocooned in increasingly abstracted electronic worlds, this defines us too. But, even as age or infirmity restricts our ability to physically explore the external world, we can now access any part of the world or the heavens with cable TV and internet packet routing. The nature and travel specials, the NASA image of the day, the Facebook and BBC updates on Arab Spring – these are all parts of a world we can instantly access today. But it means less if we cannot at least sit outside and listen to the roar of the ocean, the rustle of a breeze through a field, or the chirp of a bird who takes it upon himself to announce the time of day.

Some say God’s Country is found in the Rockies, Adirondacks, Great Smokies, or the Piedmont of our southeast coastal states. It is. It also reposes in Big Sky Country, Texas Hill Country, and the vast rolling Great Plains. One might discover the beauty of the Okefenokee wetlands, or dive and see Goliath Groupers and Barracuda in the shallow waters of Key West. One could hope to see Kilauea, the mighty Denali in Alaska, or the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. I wish I could have visited them all.

But sometimes stepping out into the back yard will suffice.

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