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.
I love this post, Linda Joy. I am from the Canadian Prairie and much of what you wrote here echos my own sentiment. The prairie is in me; I am in the prairie. Place seems to exist in many of us at an almost-cellular level. Whenever I am blessed enough to find myself standing on the endless prairie I find myself breathing deeper and letting go of anything that has been a burden. When I am on the prairie I am home, and I am myself.
Coincidentally I have been planning to give my writing group a prompt about place. This discussion and yesterday’s roundtable have been very timely!
Thanks Linda. Yes, I really do understand you and the prairie. It seeps into the cells, as you say. Yes, these kinds of prompts open up new ideas to writers, and that happened to me today in my writing group. As I read the piece to them, they began to think about how they could bring place more into their stories.
I hope you can visit the prairie again sometime soon!
I found that sort of solace in the canyons around Los Alamos where I grew up. My experience of the heartland that puts sunshine in your soul and bread on my table is endless days of unchanging landscape as we drove through it in the car. I generally attach the label Kansas though, perhaps because two or three generations of paternal ancestors thrived in Oklahoma. You might feel claustrophobic in the canyons that nurtured me. What a wonder that we bond so strongly with place as children.
Today the Pacific Northwest creates the sweetest “place music” in my soul. In both places, New Mexico and Oregon/Washington, I feel the presence of the black-haired, brown-skinned Elders of the land. Their spirit lingers even more strongly than their continued presence.
Beautiful, Sharon. Yes, we remember in our bones these places that raised us, that woke us up to the beauty of the world. I’m with you on feeling the spirit of the land and the past–so true.
Your words and memories create vivid images in my mind, and they also speak deeply into my soul.
In my older age I marvel at the sense of “home” and “place” that fills me when I get to one certain place, Richmond Beach on Puget Sound just south of the Edmonds ferry dock (north of Seattle). I spent a lot of time playing on that beach as a kid–that was before the county made it into a park with a paved entrance, an orderly parking lot, a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, and fire pits for driftwood fires–and all the decades since then. I’ve lived all over the world, but Richmond Beach is home in a way that no other places are. I’m still pondering why it has shaped my life and soul and spirit the way it has. Like you said, it’s a place and home etched in my soul.
I have read your post twice already, and will read it again to keep absorbing it. Powerful stuff! Thanks for the inspiration.
There are three Lindas here on these posts–great name! Yes, you speak of holding the memory of what the landscape once was, and I can feel the tug in your heart that it has been so “civilized” now, but inside, it stays preserved where your memory holds it, that place where it’s etched forever.
Thanks for your post.