Time and Place: Who and Where We Are

Ten years ago, having written from the gut about whatever came to mind or heart, I was identified as a “place blogger” first by Chris Corrigan of Bowen Island Journal.  He could see what I could not yet see about my writing and images on the new blog: I was displaced, but paying attention.

Sense of place was a new term for me then, but when I heard it and read a little of how it was being used to describe a gravitation pull I had felt for decades in the Southern Mountains. What was it? Was it merely poetic? And if it were a genuine “sense” or grounding value, why HERE for me but not for others?

And so maybe, by virtue of having grazed on this topic now for a decade, I have a small bit of authority of personal reflection leading to, what for me, are some principles that might make a difference going forward. At any rate, I’ll offer my thoughts to students and others, in that hope.

Next Tuesday at Ferrum College, I’ll be offering “Knowing Where We Are: Sense of Place and a Sustainable Future.”

I will describe the emergence of my own quest for a grounding in this place–a place, it seems, we have been moving toward all our lives. I’ll show a short selection of digital images, many with quotations from placed persons and thinkers such as Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry and John Muir. This visual field trip shares fragments from my scrapbook of the WHERE of my life.

And lastly, I’ll speak about the notion of “personal ecology” as a way of thinking about my own presence on the planet within the webs of time and place, and in relationship to the non-human and human communities of which I am a part.

Sense of place is the grounding principle of personal ecology. Nature deficit disorder is a symptom of placelessness that begins in childhood, to no small degree because parents are not grounded persons who have an identity taken from place.

Wendell Berry said “you can’t know WHO you are if you don’t know WHERE you are.”

The grounding ethic and practice of understanding our relationships to nature, place and community–a personal ecology–is grounded in sense of place. Sense of place to no small degree emerges from a familiarity with and honoring of the habitat we live in and an appreciation of the non-human lives that share our space. If we can’t grasp this hands-on, personal and local relationship, we’ll have little hope of a larger vision that might make the macrocosmic changes necessary to thrive.

After ten years of turning this thing in my hands, I’ve come to believe that it will be these kinds of reconciled relationships, not gee-whizzier technologies, computerized armies, shameless politicians or corpulent corporations, that will sustain us into the Anthropocene.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I am thrilled that you have been invited to speak on this topic. As a chronically displaced person (Norway, Milwaukee, Detroit, Knoxville, Memphis, Southern California, Birmingham, more southern California) I can only imagine what you have been experiencing, but I trust that you are onto something valid.