Mad in Pursuit Notebook

North Star Polaris, Little Dipper, Big Dipper

Sense of Place: Scattered Thoughts

Feb. 7, 2016. "Sense of place." I've been thinking about this concept. I've heard the phrase forever, about writers and about some artists, like Georgia O'Keefe. Well, musicians must have a sense of place too, when we think about genres so closely identified with New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, etc. Does the clustering of talent creat "a place"? Or do the geography and history of a place conspire to draw creative spirits to itself?

I live in a Place now -- on the shore of Lake Ontario, the northern edge of the USA, within commuting distance of Rochester, yet :edgy" enough not to have cell phone coverage without a personal "microcell" -- so I wonder how it will change me.

Writers and geographers have been thinking about the subject for some time. Wendell Berry famously said 'If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are'. Wallace Stegner interprets this as "... talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it. He is talking about the knowing that poets specialize in." [The Art of Geography]

In this new place of mine, I find myself doodling notes about the layers of earth, water, air (wind and sky), and fire (stars, incl. the sun and its illumination of the moon). And I doodle "cosmograms" -- traditional depictions of the cosmos, using the compass points north, south, east, and west... which themselves get linked to earth, air, fire, and water, as well as winter, fall, summer, spring.

The doodles circle me back to thinking about sacred space: a place of order and safety against the surrounding chaos. A church. A magic circle. The hearth. The Irish speak of thin places, "where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to catch glimpses of the divine" [Eric Weiner, NYT].

Mandalas are about visually describing the sacred space, within its cosmogram.

At the center is the axis mundi, the place of connection between sky and earth, above and below, where the four points of the compass meet. Here, the earth and the heavens can communicate freely. It is the steeple of a church. It is a totem pole, a May pole. Jack's beanstalk.

My new surroundings invigorate me and inspire explorations. I keep taking pictures of the stars without really knowing what I'm seeing. So I have to make an effort to link my schoolgirl knowledge of astonomy with the actual sky. The other night, I finally captured the Big and Little Dippers and Polaris (aka the North Star). What I didn't quite realize is that our total night view of the heavens in the northern hemisphere literally revolves around the North Star. Of course I know the old song of the Underground Railroad, directing escaped slaves to "follow the Drinking Gourd" -- the two stars at the far edge of the "cup," Dubhe and Merak, point to Polaris, which is always due north. But actually seeing it and comprehending, then reinforcing it with the overlay on the image at the top here -- that is something... more alive. Suddenly, there is a conversation between me and that bright guidestar. My mind is pleasantly boggled.



THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.



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All pages in this website by Susan Barrett Price are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. [The snowstorm image at the top of this page came from Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons license.]