A Sense of Place

July 11, 2018 by Greg

It’s the middle of the week in July and I’m sitting on my porch in Maryland listening to some Coltrane. The evening is peaceful - crickets are a wonderful accompaniment to saxophone - but I can’t help but yearn for a different scene.

Never felt a sense of place like at the beach. Out in the grasses and the marshes, among pine trees and horseshoe crabs is peace.

I just spent 10 days in lower Delaware, relaxing, crabbing, kayaking, biking, and enjoying 4th of July festivities with friends. I still feel like I’m there. I still feel like I belong there.

One of the things that I’ve been most surprised about is the sense of place I feel when I’m in Bethany Beach. I think I’ve always been someone that’s sensitive to the nature of their environment, but the nature of the landscape in Delaware has really stuck with me. I feel more myself. The air feels more free. The smells feel more fragrant. The pace feels more aligned to what life should be: seasonal.

Seasonality

We live in a world that seems to focus more on more on the “right now”. Everything is immediate and times are measures in hours and seconds, not days and weeks. People think most often of their day-to-day existence, not their month-to-month.

And yet.. our thinking and the major movements of our life are played out more slowly. You don’t write a book, fall in love, raise children, or start a business overnight. You do it slowly in incremental steps that get missed on a day-to-day basis. If you think about any of these things with that kind of immediate return, you squeeze out all the freedom and creative juice. You get paralyzed.

All of these are actually seasonal. It takes weeks or months to write a book. If you’re lucky, it takes weeks or months to fall in love. Same with starting a business. And, God willing, it takes decades or a lifetime to raise kids.

I feel the freedom to relax and move slowly at the beach. The landscape there is seasonal; it moves slowly and changes slowly and you feel it happen that way. The hot days of the summer blend together, in the same way as the cold and windy days of the winter. This seasonality invites contemplation. It allows you to slow down and feel more aligned to the world. Outside Washington DC, where I live in Maryland, you can still feel the landscape around you, but only just. It’s been sucked out by the hustle and bustle of culture and work and humans.

Work

Like always, I’ve been trying to work on all of my little projects. Even though I’m alone during the week, I find it difficult to do here in Maryland. I don’t have the focus or the freedom, seemingly, to stretch out a bit and actively pursue them. Instead, I find myself re-focusing on whatever is right now.

At the beach, even though I’m with family and sometimes friends, the couple of hours I occasionally get always seem pregnant with opportunity. It’s like all of the contemplation I’ve been able to inhale with the sea air is ready to manifest itself in whatever it is I want to do.

Kids

The landscape and seasonality seems to have the same effect on kids. They stretch out, relax, and enjoy letting time pass beyond the hours in a given day. I love the idea that my children will learn the lifecycle of crabs and fish and when are the times to go crabbing, understand the molting and mating seasons for horseshoe crabs, how Osprey and Blue Heron raise their young, and be able to describe the regular tidal changes in our canal.

Enabling your kids to feel a sense of place, whatever the place is, feels like a cornerstone of childhood. We look back at past generations of children and their upbringing - either on farms or more “wild” suburbs - and we identify this naturally as a key component. But the world and technology has changed enough to take most of that away. And, as an example, summers without school aren’t the unending sunny days filled with frogs and grass that they once were.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

I don’t know why the Delaware shore has this effect on me. I hope to spend a lifetime learning exactly what it is and why it has become such a poignant part of my life. I don’t expect the ocean and the beach will have the same effect on everyone. Some will love the natural plains and farms. Others will gravitate towards the mountains and rivers. But whatever landscape calls to you, go and claim it. Finding this sense of place enables far more confidence and comfort than I ever imagined.