Yesterday I felt a displacement of a personal sense of place at an almost tectonic level.
I could actually feel the earth move.
Or maybe it was just the swaying chairlift after quite a few hits on the flask of Rumple Minze -which I take for medicinal purposes only – for my back – you can understand that, right?
The term “Sense of Place” is used so often and in so many contexts that calling it cliché’ might be understating its usage. And looking at the term in clinical detail is to almost spoil the buzz.
But for many a traveler it is that palpable but mostly intangible trait that makes us happy to be there and once we leave, inspire us to return. Of course sometimes the feeling is a result of certain events that our mind ties to the place that caused the feel-good sensation, hence expressions like “you can’t go home again”, or in other words stuff changes and it ain’t the same no more.
Years ago as I ventured on a road trip with my older daughter to check out potential college choices a wise friend of mine – let’s call him Bob Brower, suggested that it really did not matter what my wife and I thought of the various institutions of higher learning; the most important ingredient for academic success was that my daughter felt her own sense of place at a specific campus and community. Bob went on to inform me that my role was primarily as a chauffeur and a checkbook. Thanks, Bob.
But Bob was truly wise. After about only one hour on the U.C. Santa Barbara campus my daughter emphatically said, “I want to go here.” Well she did and she did well. Thanks, Bob!
As I found the allure of traveling and writing about same, I took a writing class from Michael Shapiro, who ironically has book entitled A Sense of Place. (Trust me, his teaching is a whole lot better than my writing.) While the book, which is a compilation of stories from many of the best travel writers of our time, was truly inspirational to me, the book still may not explain how the phenomena – that sense of place – might speak to you.
Back to the chairlift. For the last four or five years I have been doing the season pass thing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
For a place about 2 1/2 hours from the Sacramento area, I am often amazed how much the area reminds me of the high elevation, alpine ski resorts of Utah or Colorado.
I was there yesterday and, as always, it was spectacular.
But the day before I skied with my other daughter at Heavenly Valley Resort.
My history with Heavenly goes back over 30 years ago. While a forestry student attending Cal (U.C. Berkeley), the ski club arranged weekends that included a round-trip bus ride, two nights lodgings at Fond du Lac motel on Ski Run Boulevard (as I can best recall the name), and two full day lift tickets on the mountain, all for – as Dave Berry oft guarantees – I am not making this up, all for a GRAND TOTAL of $20, as in twenty bucks (again, as I best recall – you have to remember, the recreational pharmaceutical of choice back in the day was not Rumple Minze!)
As the years went by my sense of Heavenly was a more of a image of one-piece ski outfits worn by wannabe high rollers that make a few hung-over runs between sleeping off the gambling/drinking binge from the previous night and more of the same the next day.
My sense of place was not necessarily an accurate picture but that is the nature of the phenomena -what is yours is yours and what is mine is mine.
Now, thanks largely to the technology of improved ski design, I am starting to appreciate the incredible deep powder and tree skiing that Heavenly offers on more acres can my aging legs can cover in a week. I am loving it.
While I am sure that Kirkwood will beckon me to return to a ski mountain that seems to get more snow than any other resort in California if not the entire country, I now find myself drawn to Heavenly and it’s not just the enormity of the resort, but the place speaks to me – and I am not just talking about the snowboarders yellling “Hey, old man…get out of the middle of the run.”
So next year, my season pass will have a Heavenly Mountain Resort logo on it.
While I certainly have no sense of how others sense their own personal sense of place, I know my wife has experienced the capricious perception. We loved the area we raised our daughters, up in the northeast corner of California, but at some point, as the expression goes, my wife was over it, and she fell into a new sense of place in an almost 100 year farm house down in the central valley that was her grandmother’s .
I have yet to hear of any scientific instrument or method of calibrated measurement to determine an individual’s level of their sense of place. There is no fluctuating meter level, as on a Geiger counter, to give you a clue.
There is a saying, wherever you go – there you are.
And if it makes you happy, you probably got it – that oh so sweet sense of place.