What do we think about when we think about home, landscape, land, homestead? Our mind flickers toward the places we have walked, where our ancestors, however distant or close, might have strolled during their time on earth. Land and landscape trigger thoughts of time, not only place, as the land has changed through weather, wind, and usage by people and animals. The land has its own autobiography, going back to before man measured time. We can find its traces in dirt and stone, fossils and ruts.
The dream/memory landscapes of my childhood are shaped by imagination and by the physical sensations that I can still feel in my body from living in Oklahoma, in the middle of the Great Plains, in a town that literally was in the middle of nothing but land and wheat and sky. The wind molded us, pushed and pulled us, threw red dirt in our faces, lifted our hair straight up. As children, we had to lean into the wind to walk, the wind pressed our clothes embarrassingly close to our bodies, painting us as if we were naked.
When I want to be comforted, I take myself to the spring landscapes where I came from. In May, the golden wheat throbbed against the deep blue sky, all of it was everywhere, there were no boundaries. The wind stroked the wheat into the amber waves of grain of the song, and at night the moon rose, huge and round and smiling over the tiny specks of people that appeared insignificant in all that magnificence.
I knew that where I walked, the native tribes had walked too, but they were not native to Oklahoma, most of them moved away from their own homelands so white culture could take over Georgia and Florida and all the eastern states. But I could see them sometimes, long black hair flying behind as they rode their horses across the empty lot, riding by the lone ancient cottonwood tree framed by our picture window. I’d see them and yearn to be free, ignorant of the ultimate price they paid. Ignorant that there is always a price to be paid for some of what we have.
But the wind was free, the sky was mine, and the wheat sings to me even now.
Talking about place is like a lullaby, a song of self that’s deeply rooted in all of us even if it is not beautiful. When I talk with people about where they came from I want to know how it felt on a physical, visceral level, and what they took away that they draw upon even now. I want to know how place and home are etched in their souls. Speaking about place gives everyone permission to sketch these primal places that shaped us, and invites contemplation in our writing.
Writers need to think about the specificity of where they are from, they need to be encouraged to use strong descriptive details, and also invite the dream self to enter the story.
Allow your mind to be a memoir movie camera as you view the landscapes of your life. Write what you see, feel, smell, and know deep in your bones. Invite your imagination to roam this landscape, and free write several pieces to see what your body remembers.