By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Discover 'sense of place,' appreciate seasons

Going Nature's Way


"Sense of place" is a phrase I think about as we travel. It is the feeling I have whenever we return home. This is where I belong. My dad recognized this soon after Mike and I married and they visited us at our home surrounded by forest and prairie. He said, “Kate must think she’s died and gone to home.” He was right. Author Wendell Berry once said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”

I believe we all have this "sense" at some point in our lives, when we feel complete or one with a particular place — be it rural or urban. It includes all the various physical features, like buildings and landscape, and the intangibles, like smells, sounds and feelings. In my research on this topic, I found a new word that seems to describe this phenomena — "topophilia" – which is the affective bond between people and place or setting.

It’s possible some of us have a stronger sense of place than others, though I don’t know why. Some people born in a particular location or landscape never wish to live in another place, while others only find their "place" in a different location and setting.

I fall into the first category and my son, Jon, falls into the second. Try as I might to entice him to move back to Minnesota, he has a definite affinity for the mountain west. Maybe it has to do with life experiences we have as we become adults. I married young and continued to live just a few blocks from where I grew up. Jon’s first work after college was in the Frank Church Wilderness of Idaho. That summer changed his outlook on his place in the world — how and where he wanted to live his life.

As a mom I am torn with conflicting emotions; I want him to live nearby, but I also want him to be happy in all ways and he has made it clear he is happiest surrounded by mountains and forests. My daughter, Alyssa, also married young and her first home away from Minnesota was in Wyoming. From there, she moved to Spokane. Later, as her Air Force husband was transferred around the country and world, they lived in Italy, Ohio and for the longest time in Colorado. So guess where she’d most like to live? Colorado. Thankfully, Troy’s last posting was back in Duluth, where their life together began and where they live today, on the shores of the biggest and most beautiful lake in the world. “How lucky can you get?” I keep insisting.

I have been fortunate to have traveled extensively in my life and I have been many places I greatly enjoy and appreciate for their beauty and history, but I am always happy to return to Minnesota among the thousands of lakes and our home in the forest.

Besides the comfort of familiar surroundings, as a lifelong Minnesotan I have been "programmed" to expect certain weather conditions throughout the year. As much as other people of my age take joy in the absence of snow, it will always feel wrong to me if it is still winter. We live with four distinct seasons in Minnesota, some shorter and some longer than others, but it gives a rhythm to our lives and activities. Winter is a season that can inspire some of us to anticipate the snow and ski trails, while others are filled with dread. For the latter I can only wish a move to someplace with a climate better suited to their soul.

I take joy in a carpet of white and a brown Christmas is always a sad and disappointing sight. It does make for safer driving conditions, and for that I am happy, but it just isn’t right in my book.

After Christmas, Mike and I were in a place completely different from home. We arrived in New Orleans on December 27 to cloudy skies, wet pavement, 68 degrees and a humidity of 80 percent. The Christmas lights in town included alligators wearing red Santa hats. The decorations and lights throughout the French Quarter and downtown were pretty, but somehow confusing. If you think about the idealized Christmas scene in our culture, it is always shown with snow in the background, so it is always incongruous for us to see snowmen and Santa decorations and displays sitting out on green grass.

While we were in this semi-tropical land, we appreciated the abundance of greenery and even flowers. Returning home we celebrated our snowy homestead knowing the sun was following us on its northward journey. The circle of the seasons flows onward and we try to appreciate each in its own time.


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