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.