Place, Memory, and the Natural World: Finding Home, Making Home


Welcome to the last week of May, and an unusual cold front. We had been dealing with some warm and dry temperatures (highs of 86 degrees) when all of a sudden a brief cold front descended yesterday. The sheep were so excited, they were jumping for joy at the cool Northeastern breezes. But, as with all things, it won't last. Summer is coming, Spring is ending, and next week we'll see possible 90s. Ugh. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready! I will try to stay in the moment, and enjoy this Holiday weekend, before the barn fans are all set to High, and I'm spending lots of time putting out cold water for all the livestock. 

This morning was so chilly, it brought me back to my childhood and time spent visiting my grandparents in the U.P. in May. We always scheduled our family vacation to coincide with Walleye season, so my Dad and Grandad could spend as much time fishing as possible. The mornings and evenings in May are typically cool upnorth, and as a child I was always disappointed that we couldn't go swimming at Stuesser's Lake during our May visits. However, what I didn't realize was just how strong the connection would remain in my memory to that cool May weather. The smells, the air, the way the landscape looked, are forever etched in my mind. Hence, whenever I step outside to a cool, crisp May morning, I am flooded with happy memories. 

This got me thinking about the importance of place, and what the Brits call being "hefted". This term is usually reserved for sheep, to describe how flocks become attached or grounded to a specific place and land, so they will not roam too far when out grazing. I have often wondered how humans become hefted to place? Or do we?

Do you have specific memories that include smells, sounds, and sights, that are attached to a place from your childhood? Young adulthood? How do these memories figure into your daily life and your plans or goals for the future? Do you find yourself searching for those places that appear in your memory? Do we "imprint" on the spaces where we were born or raised? 

These are all things I wonder about, as I adjust to my new geographic area, weather, and landscape. One of the things that I have done over the many years I've lived in the flatter, and more open landscape of Central Illinois is to try to get to know all of the nuances of this place. So many nuances! Learning about the flora and the fauna, the history, the microclimate, has been a journey. I tend to see something interesting (say, a lake or river area that I've never noticed before) and then I go down the rabbit hole, lol. I want to know all about how the plants got there, what it looked like a hundred years ago, what types of animals used to be there and what type are there now, and how all the different humans who came into contact with this space interacted with it at different points in time. 

I love telling stories (just ask anyone who knows me, I've got story after story!) and I love uncovering stories that are just waiting to be told. Finding a specific place in nature (the non-built world), or an old homestead that is part of the built world, makes me think about all of the stories it has to tell. I like to look for clues and signs, little secrets that the trees, grasses, and empty houses may be willing to tell. You have to listen very closely, and be open to what they have to say. 

Just having a curious attitude about the space all around you, can lead you on some interesting journeys, and can offer some strong connections to place that just might end up hefting you to the land you find yourself currently living on. Having started the farm here at Shady Grove, has really given me an opportunity to practice so much mindfulness- observing all the small changes that happen seasonally and that also change slightly year after year. The climate is warming, and farming and caring for livestock make you acutely aware of the most subtle changes. Storms, rainfall, hotter temps, are all important to note when you're raising plants or animals. If not for this tiny farm, I may have been able to ignore all the seasonal changes that happen here. 

It also takes patience to be fully present with those seasonal and daily changes. Learning that this particular moment is but one moment, and will soon be gone, to be replaced by something different, does help keep us in the present. So, for this weekend, I'm going to enjoy these cool breezes and the last hurrah of spring, before the next cycle and season comes along. I hope you do too!