Sense of place

To experience life fully, we must first slow down and smell the flowers, behold the blooming present, sample the unfolding miracle of existence … up close and intimate.

To experience life fully, we must first slow down and smell the flowers, behold the blooming present, sample the unfolding miracle of existence … up close and intimate.

by Jesse Wolf Hardin — 

Much has been made about the phenomenal photographs of Earth taken from outer space, brilliant blue with wispy white beards set against a solid black backdrop. Their message is that Earth is a single finite home without national borders, a lifeboat we all share, spinning in an airless sea of stars. But the pictures also can be misleading, as if each region were undifferentiated and interchangeable, as if one continent or watershed could serve, nourish and define us the same way as the next.

In some ways, those NASA photographs simply are taken from too far away. The rich colors of desert and mountains appear a solid, muddled brown, the songs of each distinct ecosystem a dull, muffled roar. To truly know the Earth, it is best to focus on just one of those continents until the myriad hues of tundra and swamp, wildflowers and hummingbirds stand out.

We need to zoom in on one particular section, such as my wild Gila where Arizona and New Mexico meet, or the Sonoran bioregion. Then deeper, into a certain watershed, a select mesa, a specific grove — to the Chiracahuas, Salt River, Mt. Lemmon or Mt. Graham, to the local park and our own backyard.

Then, still nearer, to a favorite old tree, or down on our hands and knees among the clover. It is possible to sense the whole of the land, to gaze into the universe of stars in a single inch of river sand.

Place is not simply where we exist — it is how we are grounded. It is where our intuition is informed, where our spirits are healed and fed. And it is best understood close up, in nested microcosms like an overgrown corner of a school playground, a special creek that speaks to us, or waving rows of sky-clad chilis — always enlisting our patience and attention, enticing our celebratory, sensual exploration.

To experience life fully, we must first slow down and smell the flowers, behold the blooming present, sample the unfolding miracle of existence … up close and intimate.

 

Jesse Wolf Hardin is the author of Gaia Eros: Connecting with Earth & Spirit and co-host of wilderness retreats, quests and internships, five hours east of Phoenix at The Earthen Spirituality Project. www.earthenspirituality.org.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 5, October/November 2005.

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