by Ken Root
I’ve lived in many physical locations in my life and now, in my seventh decade on this earth, I wonder how much of who we are is based on our relationship with place. I think of place as the physical, emotional and spiritual coordinates that define our being. Can a physical location, like a farm, form an emotional bond and become a spiritual place where we feel comfortable and complete?
Think of your childhood home. Only a few people have the opportunity to live there for an entire lifetime. I know one such man who lives in the same house where he was born and sits at the same place at the table where his mother put his high chair over seventy-five years ago. His attachment to that farm and farmhouse is as strong as any I can imagine. His colorful identity is entwined in the culture and community nestled around him. Put him anywhere else and he would be miserable.
But what if you are uprooted from your childhood home? It appears to be the normal tendency of a young man or woman to be like a seed and float free for a period of time before alighting, often by chance, in a place where they begin to establish an identity and strengthen their character and bonds as life passes by. In a few years, that place may well replace all but the childhood memories of their original home.
The ability to accomplish physical work and gain emotional satisfaction seems to start with place. Homeless people drift without purpose. Nomadic people migrate with purpose. Industrial society stays in one place and grows with resiliency as it matures. Flexibility of early communities is replaced with societal limits that become more ingrained in the persons living in such an environment.
Our ancestors, were seeds cast thousands of miles from their original homes. They melded with the earth in random places across this country and began the process of finding purpose for their lives. Some did not survive the physical rigors of the landscape while others may have had reasons to break loose and float again before taking root. Those who wound up on pioneer farms and ranches were able to draw physical sustenance and wealth from the land but they needed emotional and spiritual fulfillment. They brought their culture and religion with them and quickly formed communities that reflected their faith and social customs. They became comfortable with their place from three dimensions. Those communities have survived for over a hundred years with remnants of their original ancestry still intact.
Physical wealth, accumulated through a lifetime of work, is prized, sometimes beyond its value to future generations. We usually find those who receive inheritance, view it with little emotion and often find the life’s work of their parents as disposable.
As we age and come into the autumn of our lives, I notice how strong the attachment to physical surroundings grows. “People want to die at home,” said the hospice worker who took care of my mother in her last months of life. “They may not be able to have the kind of care they’d receive in a hospital or center but that’s not the most important thing to them. They find greatest comfort in a familiar place and resist being moved out of it.”
Some of us spend our lives building a place. In the physical sense, it is acquisition and improvement of property. This brings emotional satisfaction and even takes on a spiritual nature. A farm is not just dirt; a farm has a soul. More likely our own soul grows to fill the expanse. We live there, and we hope to die there, with our only remaining request to be buried in that place to maintain the relationship through eternity.