Sense of place results from a connection you develop by interacting with and therefore forming a relationship with your surrounding environment. Dorothy, a Hopi woman who has dedicated her life to keeping the Hopi traditions alive on the land her family members tediously cared for generation after generation, strongly believes that your sense of place defines and completes you. She claims to have been lost, not knowing who she was until she married a Hopi man, moved in with his family, and began to learn about and practice living out a traditional Hopi lifestyle.
Dorothy pleaded that upon completion of our excursion through the Colorado Plateau, we discover our own sense of place.
The raw emotion that lingered in her voice as she declared this request ignited a desire in my soul to discover my own sense of place. My first instinct was to resort to my Irish descent. My family has always been proud of, and worked hard to keep our Irish heritage alive. Celtic Crosses, Irish blessings, thick stews, and tales of the lush green rolling hills that sustained my ancestors for generations were a constant presence in my youth.
The more I pondered my Irish heritage in comparison to my time with Dorothy, the more I realized that there was something that burned stronger still within my heart–a connection that burned continuously, portrayed through the overwhelming beauty of my surroundings. My sense of place was not from a specific place, or cultural traditions. Rather it was from my God. I exist because of him. He is love. He is guidance. He is comfort, hope, and peace. He is in the soft golden glow, that dances across the earth at the dawn of each new day. He is the delicate string of dew drops that decorate his intricately designed flower petals. He is the gentle breeze that softly rolls across your shoulders, providing relief from the heat of the day. He is the sweet perfume that fills the air with a sweet scent prior to the fall of every drop of rain; God is the strength of the Sandstone and Wingate walls, that remain powerful and protective through the ages; He is the awe of the canyons, the mystery of the risen plateaus; he is the gentleness of a butterfly as it floats through the air; God is the comfort of the stars and the moon as they illuminate the sky; he is the soft lullaby of the crickets with setting of the sun; he is the relief of a cool, refreshing mist breaking the heat of the day; he is the shade of a boulder in the middle of the desert, the mystery of the blooming flowers in the midst of a drought; God is the elegance of the water skippers as they dance across the glistening pools of life; He is the haunting cry of the coyote as it echoes through the night, and the flight of the bird as it swims flawlessly through an endless sea of sky.
Nature acts as a mediator between God and the human heart. He decorates the world for each and every one of us differently each day. He does this because he loves us, in return he asks only that we love and respect his gifts. That we share his beauty. That we linger in its presence and allow it to fill our hearts with happiness. I believe that humans were created to have a connection with the land. The farther removed are from it, the more lost, alone, and incomplete we feel.
Terry Tempest Williams describes this bond perfectly as she explains, “Nature held the secret to unity, not just outside us, but inside us, no separation” (When Women Were Birds).
Discovering my sense of place has made me whole. I challenge you to discover your own, search your soul, search the land–it is there just waiting to share it’s gifts with you.