The Importance Of A Sense Of Place

A “sense of place” has been the subject of many definitions and examples designed to explain the concept that almost everyone has felt at one time or another.

Two of my favorites are: “A sense of place is used to describe the distinctiveness or unique character of particular localities or regions,” and “A sense of place is the emotions someone attaches to an area based on their experiences,” according to the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography and National Geographic, respectively.

To me, a sense of place often exists in memories preserved in your mind’s eye. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a cotton farmer while trying to get directions to his place to conduct an interview and photo shoot for an article I was working on. This was before you could “drop a pin” on your iPhone and GPS systems weren’t as accurate as they are today.

I felt like I was mentally following his instructions pretty well as I jotted down all the highway numbers and side road names he gave me. Then he threw me a curve ball: “Before you get to the road that goes out to our shop, take a left where the barn used to be.” He could visualize it and knew exactly what he was talking about, but I didn’t have a clue. I had no sense of place for that area, but he did.

In addition to roads and regions, you can have a sense of place with a cotton field that may be tied to some of the other senses besides sight. When you’re out there in March just after sunrise and the dew is still on the ground, you can smell the soil waiting for the planter to start rolling and feel the breeze that ushers in the day. If you’ve spent a lot of time on a farm, you probably have a distinctive sense of place based on experiences like this.

Take it a step further and actually feel the soil, especially in a field where the ground hasn’t been disturbed much over the years. The earth is silty, full of organic matter and home to a plethora of earthworms. Experiencing this sense of place and the ecosystem that thrives there contributes to positive self-worth and the realization that you helped create this sustainable environment.

And as farmers manage the land in a sustainable manner, they protect and preserve their personal sense of place, which makes it all worth it.

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