A Sense of Place

I recently read Wendell Berry’s “The Long Legged House” and “A Native Hill,” both of which examine the connection of author with place. Berry chose against placing himself in New York or other career-advantageous places and determined instead to return to Kentucky, where he was born and where his family had settled. In returning, he set about to learn as much about his area as he could, from its history to its landscape, fauna, and needs. “I had ceased to be a native as men usually are, merely by chance and legality, and had begun to be native in the fashion of the birds and animals; I had begun to be born here in mind and spirit as well as in body” (LLH 166).

I like this concept and I know I am far from realizing it myself. I hear bird calls that I cannot identify, I have forgotten much of the once-entrenched knowledge I had of wildflowers. I do not feel an interiorization of the seasons, so that I absorb the timing, with the incrementally shorter and longer days regulating my blood flow, or feel the thaw inside when spring arrives again. When I see deer, though, I still feel the wonder and tingle of awe that they can step so close to what we have built on their land, and as they try to keep their patterns of living intact despite our presence. I still favor autumn over every other season, and I am far more attentive to its rhythms, sounds, smells. The other seasons i note in fragments: a still moment here, a whiff of mown grass there, a clattering of dry sedge in the frozen gusts of winter, but these are mostly accidental or incidental connections rather than a concerted effort to attend to the land. Though I know I am far more attentive to nature than most, it is not enough. It is like saying I know God better than the world at large does, while realizing that most are so dead to His reality that my knowledge is no accomplishment at all.

The wonderful thing about this comparison, of course, is that in knowing the earth, I also come to know God more. They are not conflicting studies, but enriching ones, and writing of them is my best act of worship. This is blessing upon blessing, to be given permission and ability to fuse them all and make them my life work.

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