Monday, March 20, 2006

To explain a little

So I returned yesterday evening from my spring break in New Orleans, and immediately decided to write about my experience in my essay for the week about "my sense of place and how nature affectss it." As I was down there I thought a lot about my sense of place; it's something I've never really thought about before and, quite honestly, didn't entirely understand when the assignment was given. But I learned so much about the undying sense of belonging those people had to their storm-ravaged home, and it made me realize just how connected I am to the places I've called home. Savannah runs deep inside of me, and even when I say I needed a change and that I will never live there again, the area still composes me. It still defines me.

We're all products of our environment and culture. Just like you can never separate yourself entirely from an experience, even a negative one, you can also never separate yourself from a place that has gotten under your skin. To use a silly example, I love Walt Disney World in Orlando. I've been about a dozen times, the last time being about five years ago, during my junior year in high school. For months now I have been longing to go back, and to share it with my husband (who has never been). Do I think he would love it as I do? Of course not. If I went for the first time at the age of twenty-two I would probably find it rather lame myself. But my wonderful memories there and my feeling that I belong there, that Disney World is mine, all make it a special place for me. I can feel joy today in other situations and relate it back to the joy I felt there as a child; I can do something that makes me feel like a kid again and automatically it goes into the Disney category in my heart, because I associate my youth with Disney. As cliché as all that sounds, it is the complete truth.

Places like that really give us a reference point. I can appreciate a cold northern winter because it is different from a Savannah winter, and I can tolerate a sweltering Georgia summer because it is the summer I have always known. Climate is a huge part of our sense of place; I can just imagine the typical summer climate on the Gulf of Mexico, and while it seems like it would be a relief to escape that kind of heat, people cannot wait to return to it because for them, that is how their climate is supposed to be. The alligators and the herons and the cranes and the seagulls--they too belong there. Terry Tempest Williams had a deep sense of belonging to the Great Salt Lake, though its salinity made it sting and burn and dry with salty crystals caked to her skin. She belonged to the desert and loved the desert; she belonged to the birds and they belonged to her. We all are a part of the places that are a part of us. All we are is nature along with everything else natural around us. Thousands of years of sun has darkened the skin of Africans with melanin, while in northern Europe pale skin and eyes and hair tell of the cooler climate and the less-direct sunlight. Our environment and culture leave even their physical markings on us; how much more will they leave markings on our souls and in our hearts, where the essence of us all really exists?

I was really struck with all these ideas as I did my part last week to help the people to whom New Orleans belongs. They are strongly tied to their home, just as I am strongly tied to mine. Something that powerful you can't question and you can't overcome. If you want change you seek it, but all the change does is add to, not replace, your sense of place. If you don't want change then you stay right where you know you belong. "Here I am, where I should be."

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