In December of 2007 I went home for Christmas. It was the first time I had been home in almost two years, after living and teaching in Korea. I had traveled during those years– Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines. But no place affected me in the same way as returning to Canada after all that time.
Obviously, the people made a difference. I was coming home to my family. My friends. My cat. But in all honesty, landing at the Calgary airport and seeing the Rocky Mountains rising up at the threshold of foothills and sky made me feel grounded, and downright choked up. They, too, were old friends, welcoming me home.
Place can be an intimate force in our lives. We can connect to a place in a similar way that we relate to a person. We develop relationships with place, and associate memories with them. We can love them, hate them, fear them. We can discover new places, learn about them, understand them in a personal way. And we can go back and rediscover them and, in doing so, remember things about ourselves.
I love to read books about interesting places. I love to “travel” through literature, to discover new settings through the context of a story on a page. But I also enjoy reading about places and things that are familiar. When I travel, I love to find fiction that takes place in the landscape I’m visiting. It helps me develop a deeper connection to that “intimate force” that is a sense of place - grounding me.
And I love to read stories about places from my past. Places that I already have relationships with. Like the Rockies. Maybe, too, because it allows me to sympathize with the main character better. I can imagine my feet navigating the same terrain. I can, in my mind, truly wear their shoes.
Places are like people. They can communicate things to us. You can read a landscape the way you can read a book or a map. They have their own stories to tell. And they can listen, too. Believe me, I’ve spent enough time in quiet mossy woods to know.
And if you’re lucky, a good book can take you right there (or back), too.
What places will you visit (or revisit) today?