Some scholars call it a "sense of place," this feeling one has of connection to a specific landscape, usually positive. As an avid road-tripper and adventurer in my twenties, I drove all over the U.S. Sometimes I stayed for months in one area, and sometimes only a few hours. I can honestly say that I at some point I have been nostalgic for every place I've ever lived, except maybe the suburbs I grew up in.
A mentor and friend I knew in Western North Carolina posed a question one day while we were having a beer and saying goodbye. Soon I'd marry my soul mate, a Carolina boy, and move with him out west for graduate school. My friend had just reunited with an old friend, whom she'd known when they were both married. Now both were single. Problem was, he lived in the Piedmont. The flatlands of mid-North Carolina. And my friend was a beach or mountains kind of gal.
"Where do you stand on true love versus true geography?" she asked.
I wish I remembered my answer.
I think of this now because my ten year old son seems to have a sense of place already. It's certainly not an affinity for where he was born--Reno. When he was two and a half we drove back from Pennsylvania for a reunion. Gabe hated the sun's intensity and the winds that kicked up the sage late every afternoon.
Not a desert boy.
I had thought, like my husband, that where we ended up in rural North Central PA was a lot like the Southern Appalachians where we met, where we went to college, where his family has been for generations. (My mom was from Knoxville, TN, but Jimmy won't allow that I'm Southern since I grew up in Maryland.) I know that the mountains aren't as high (we're on the Allegheny Plateau here) but I also know that I have a lot of memories stored in the mountains down south. And I have always assumed memories made up 90% of my sense of place.
The other day I mentioned to Gabe that we'd be going for a hike that afternoon. It'd been a while since we'd hit the trails and I wanted to enjoy the warm fall day that glowed with the last leaves.
"Ugh. Do we have to?"
"What's that supposed to mean? You hiked all summer without complaining."
"But that was in North Carolina."
"Yeah, where the hikes were longer, steeper, and hotter. You hate the heat."
Turns out, none of that mattered. The type of rocks and forests and creeks were more fun and the views more beautiful. They called to him, called him from the creek and pastures of our Aunt's house where we stay, in a way the hills and creeks here in PA don't call him to leave his backyard.
It's puzzling because he loves playing with buddies in the woods here. It's not like he has more time or space to play outdoors in NC. It's not like he has friends there he misses when he's here. There's family, of course, but they visit us too.
But those Southern Appalachian rocks and forests and creeks are family too, I guess. And they can't visit.
I write, read, recreate, and raise kids in rural Pennsylvania. I teach part-time in Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Creative Writing, and Women's Studies at Mansfield University.