A sense of place means you bring the right shoes

There are places that resonate. Places that make me want to come back and experience them again and again. Most of those places for me are in the western USA. I grew up here. They are familiar. I love them deeply.
Emily has a sense of place rooted in the Mississippi Delta. I have the feeling it is also a very deep sort of place, but it is as foreign to me as an island in the South Pacific. I don’t know the culture or have an affinity for the smells or the bugs that are still around at New Years. I am not used to the mud and the water that is everywhere, and I don’t know what shoes to bring along.

The holidays went on for a very long time this year. We visited my childhood home in northern New Mexico. This is a place where I know I will need tennis shoes for the sand and some Gore-tex boots for the few inches of snow that will fall and then melt the next morning. I know I will find myself out on the desert or high on the hogback watching the light and the long coal trains flying down Route 66. And I know what the wait staff at any restaurant means when they say, “red, green, or Christmas?”

I try to find the same thing in Mississippi. I search Google for any place where there might be a trail in the woods and I do find one about 30 miles away on a wildlife refuge. It is only .9 miles long and the 9-year-old we take along is, though he grew up here, perhaps understandably afraid of cottonmouths. From the trail we Google a picture of them and decide we would probably see them among the leaf litter before we stepped on one in this winter-bare landscape. He is brave and we do get a walk.
But it isn’t my place. I also try to be brave and pretend that it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the food or have the right shoes or even know what all the words I hear mean.

Now on the way home, somewhere in Arkansas, I have just finished James Rebanks’ second book, The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd. His first book, The Shepherd’s Life, was probably my favorite read of 2015. And I think it was because of the sense of place. Rebanks is rooted to his land in the Lake District of England. That deep sense of attachment is something I think we all need.
Having a sense of rootedness in a particular place is what makes me feel safe in the world.

It helps that I know what shoes to bring.

What about you?