Friday, January 12, 2007

Sense of Place

This is one of my 5 am walk thoughts that I'm still trying to "place". It's our "sense of place" or "home". There are places where we feel very much at home. There are other places that are alienating and difficult to tolerate, even when it's familiar. It could be geographical and social, but what is it in a "place" that evokes our feelings of belonging?

The photo above is from the San Gabriel mountains in the Angeles National Forest (just slightly north of Los Angeles). For some people who prefer a dense urban environment, it could bring feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and isolation, since there might not be another human for miles around. For me, I enjoy nature and being outdoors, so I could feel "comfortable" here, even though I don't live here. So what provides us these feelings and preferences? Is it our childhood upbringing and memories? Maybe.

This morning while walking down the road, the moon emerged from behind some clouds. I heard the familiar sound of tree branches and dry leaves rustling in the cool winter breeze, the sound of a distant freight train, and a neighborhood dog barking. Memories are associative, and these are the same sounds I've heard all my life growing up in Ohio. Even though this California, and it isn't Ohio (of course), I could feel like it was... it feels "like home".

Choosing where to live isn't always a rational decision, and it's sometimes based on how one feels in a place; how we feel about our neighbors and neighborhood. Our present area of residence is quite nice, but isn't the most tidiest of places -- with a few roaming stray cats and dogs, occasional graffiti, and someone's old shoes hanging by the laces over the power line. Some people keep their yards neatly trimmed, but some have miscellaneous auto parts used for lawn decorations. It's not Beverly Hills, or a planned housing project, but there is diversity. In our neighborhood, people are likely to speak Chinese or Spanish, as well as English.

Our neighbors are the type to hammer away at some home construction projects, dig in their vegetable garden, or work on their cars. There's a drummer down the street who practices every evening, and every morning we hear a rooster crow. During my morning walks, most people will say "hi" or "good morning", even the guy who searches the trash cans looking for recyclables. This is presently "home" for us, and we got used to living here. We probably wouldn't feel so comfortable living in a yuppie upscale area, but we have nothing against yuppies.

Some days after we first moved to our house, I was eating breakfast, and I noticed with surprise that the basic placement of items in our kitchen (stove, sink, refrigerator, cabinets) were in the same locations as in my childhood home. It made me wonder if that preference for our house and home was made in my subconscious mind to mirror something from my past.

I'll probably have to figure this out in some future blog entry... Please excuse the rambling thoughts.

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