Itâ€™s been five months since my family moved from the edge of the country to the middle, and Iâ€™ve never felt so out of place. The change of season is to blame, of course: it happened quite quickly, here, on the day before Thanksgiving, when the low sky let fall flurries of snow and something else, too–a dampening of the light that makes everything look different, somehow. Iâ€™m not pleased. Itâ€™s not just the hassle of getting myself and my children into jackets and boots every time we go outdoors, or the unpleasant chill that follows us indoors. Itâ€™s an unsettling sense, watching my children play in the leaf-blanketed street or driving through my snowy neighborhood, that these are somebody elseâ€™s children, somebody elseâ€™s neighborhood. I feel misplaced.
Mormon naturalist Terry Tempest Williams writes of her deep sense of placedness in a landscape, a specific ecology linked to her family history and her most basic sense of self: â€œI have known five of my great-grandparents intimately. They tutored me in stories with a belief that lineage mattered. Genealogy is in our blood. As a people and as a family, we have a sense of history. And our history is tied to land. â€¦ Our attachment to the land was our attachment to each other. â€¦ It was in these moments of childhood that Great Salt Lake flooded my psyche.â€?
When I read Williamsâ€™ book Refuge in college, I envied her sense of place in natureâ€™s large design. Growing up in Southern California, I never imagined that I had developed such a sense: while I was deeply attached to my home and family, and while I enjoyed camping and hiking on summer vacations, the everyday landscape of my life was, I thought, a fairly unremarkable suburban scene. I felt no special connection to the natural ecology of Southern California, even though we lived at the feet of the San Gabriels and visited the beach occasionally. We could have picked up our home and moved it to an affluent suburb of, say, Dallas or Phoenix or Atlanta, without much disruptionâ€”or so I thought.
But now Iâ€™m realizing that I may indeed have placedness imprinted on my soul, although the features of Southern California make themselves known more subtly than Williamsâ€™ Great Lake. Despite what outsiders might assume, the change of seasons in Southern California is unmistakableâ€”but youâ€™ll miss it if youâ€™re looking for a change in the weather. Winter is a change in light, a feeling of slantedness: as the sun drops lower in the southern sky, shadows grow longer and sharper, canting the soul toward winter. Here in Missouri, the sun is hidden behind low clouds for most of the winter, and one senses the seasons in the unsubtle expressions of precipitation and temperature. Iâ€™ll adapt, I know, and my children will grow up in the landscape of this vast middle; Iâ€™ll probably even miss it when we leave. And for now Iâ€™ll try to draw comfort from my displacedness, knowing that, after all, I have a place.
Are you placed?