A sense of place isn’t just about the geographical topographical location of a particular place, it’s more about getting under the skin of a place through utilising the senses, making sense through associations, memories and flights of imagination, it’s all about being there, and enjoying the impact a place has on your senses and emotions.
sense of place/space : space/place of sense
“A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines.” Kent Rydon
“It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense, that gives us our identity.” J.B. Jackson
topophilia = love of a place
“[…] the first secret spot that draws me outside is a stump and board bench on a high terrace overlooking the lake and valley. Before I sit down, I must bang the board against a tree to knock off all the ants. Then I’m happy. With a stunted oak tree for shelter and a never-ending view, I am hidden. No one knows where I am. The nine-year-old’s thrill of the hideout under the hydrangea comes back: My mother is calling me and I am not answering.” Frances Mayes, Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style From the Heart of Italy
“Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.” Alexander McCall Smith, Love Over Scotland
“From whichever side I start, I think I am in an old place where others have been before me.” Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun
It is a combination of characteristics that makes a place/space special and unique. Cultivating a sense of place/space involves personal experience of a place/space, local knowledge and local lore. Sense of place/space grows through seeing yourself in relation to a particular landscape or object within a landscape.
Wendell Berry novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer said:
‘If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are’.
Wallace Stegner, American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist, has interpreted Berry’s maxim as:
“…talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it. He is talking about the knowing that poets specialize in.”
That is a sense of place/space that would require time, energy, and implicit attention to realise. It’s a tragedy that such a sense of connection or rootedness is denied so many of us lost in virtual realities, real it TV, writ conditioned offices and cars that provide us with little or no connection to any kind of unique ‘real’ place/space at all.
Is the sense of place becoming a lost sense? If it is, we need to recapture it urgently if we’re serious about trying to keep our heads, and make sense of a mad, mad world.
Possible tools for ensnaring a fleeting sense of place might include maps, photographs, stories, poems, drawings, notes, paintings, each is an entry points for appreciating place/space, but it’s important to remember that they’re all second-hand strategies, always at-one-remove from that most vital of activities, experiencing a place personally and ideally at first hand. To get a real sense of place there’s no alternative but to get up close and dirty with it…
…so perhaps best to stop reading this, get out there, take a deep breath and ENJOY!