In the past fourteen months, I have moved six times: a potpourri of apartments anchored by my parents’ house, the only place I have ever called home. Each of these changes has been punctuated with nights on the road, under stars, in tents, and — my personal favorite — on rivers. On July 25, I will move from home to Bogotá, Colombia, where I will spend ten months teaching as part of the Fulbright Program.
A sense of place is a mystical concept, often wrapped up in a neat package with verbiage of where you are and where you feel connected. These connections stretch through strangers’ smiles to family embraces and are encapsulated in familiar landscape and cultural heritage. My sense of place is not the same as yours, for which I am grateful: I can never expand mine without yours.
Wendell Berry said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” When rooted in the landscape of the Colorado Plateau, I know exactly who I am. The balance of fluidity and rigidity comes to fruition as I dip my toes in the parched waters of this uplift, situated so perfectly along geological and geographical lines that my heart can’t help but swell. I feel the red rock, and I know, I know, what I love and what I want and who I am.
I pack my bags once again.
My heart and soul do not have a quota, but I once worried that all the love I had for new places would overtake my affinity for home. Arizona doesn’t have to lord over Wyoming and Mexico as its minions, and Joshua Tree and Red Rocks can remain comfortably intertwined in my map. Each time I step into a new sphere, I hear the content whisperings of wholeness and celebration. It is enough.
And yet, some places set my soul on fire. These are the important places, the ones I hold close and return to, if only in my mind, when I need rest and rejuvenation. Mine come most freely on a river, in the full silence of water flowing and rocks standing sentinel.
My places are on rivers. My places are on mountains. My places are with you. And my newest place is Bogotá, Colombia.
Thank you for joining me. Where are your places?
“The Sense of Place” by Wallace Stegner
“What is Sense of Place?” by Jennifer E. Cross
“The Important Places” (film) by Gnarly Bay, Forest Woodward, and Friends