Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Sense of Place

"Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception together."
Rebecca Solnit
Camelback Mountain

My husband and I just returned from a long weekend in Arizona visiting my mom.  When I'm down there, I'm always struck by how much the desert feels like home, even though I haven't lived there for over 30 years. But there's something about the desert (especially the light) that speaks to me on a deep, visceral level.

Hiking at Piestawa Peak 
We always go hiking when we are in Arizona, and with each step I take I feel the years shed off of me as we walk along the dusty trail. Very quickly, I become the young girl who built forts in the washes, and scrambled up Mummy Mountain to create lookout points on the valley below.  We were knowledgeable about the different types of cacti, and the difference between lizards and gila monsters. We knew to be careful when moving rocks, as scorpions could be resting just below. We also knew to always be alert and listen for the sound of the rattle. Roadrunners, jackrabbits, quails and doves were the animals in our "playground," and at night the howl of the coyotes lulled us to sleep.
These past few days I've been thinking a lot about what a sense of place means and from where it originates. I love the Northwest; it has been my home since 1979. Today when I got back and looked out at the lush greenery of our backyard, I was grateful for the stark difference of the desert.  There's something about the sparseness of that landscape that has somehow shaped me.  I wonder if others find that the landscapes they grew up in are embedded in them? Or perhaps in your travels you discovered a landscape that spoke to you above all others. Why does that happen? What is it that makes a place speak to us on a deeper level? 

I don't have an answer to any of these questions, just wonderings. I know that whenever I return to the Southwest I'm always grateful to step into the landscape of my childhood and let the memories wash over me. I'm also equally grateful to come back to the Northwest, where I've made a home the past 33 years. 


  1. Such beautiful photos, Robin - I'm so glad that you & Israel got to go away together. I agree with you about a sense of home, or "homing instinct," and mine seems to be set on Kitsap County...though Vancouver Island is a close second, and Hawaii will do, in a pinch! ;)

  2. Karen, Your love of the water and beaches is always so evident in your posts. They always reinforce what it is I love about the Pacific NW.

  3. I so appreciate the particularity of your memories of place and time, Robin. Your naming of forts and lookouts and plants and critters all take me right back to my own version of the same when I was a kid in Iowa. And even though that farmland is flat—or what I prefer to call "gently rolling"—it holds a lot of meaning for me.

    It must be a source of solace for you and Israel to know that you provided Matthew such a rich environment for his childhood—Bainbridge Island, Orcas Island, visits to Arizona among many travels. And memories abound, I'm sure, of him playing in the creek behind out back, batting in the cage, and so many baseball games.

    For me, nature is that place both of inspiration, but also of holding the overwhelming grief I feel at times. It's big enough, and mysterious enough, and accepting of it all. Thanks so much for stirring my memories and imagination by sharing yours!