Brandon Letsinger

Developing a Sense of Place

A key part of bioregionalism is developing a sense of place.

Developing a sense of place is a skilled art that every person can master. It means slowing down. Taking the time you need, to stop, to wonder to learn. From this comes the most revolutionary action – caring about our places. To know what is around us and at risk and being lost.

We cannot fight a problem if we do not know it exists. A sense of place is the first step to directly confronting the faceless nature of globalism, and many of ills that stem from a rootless society.

“Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk.”

–N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain

Developing a sense of place means digging our roots into one single, defined location. It might be our home, where our ancestors came from or where we live currently. It means grounding ourselves into ecological realities – the weather, how things change with the seasons, rainfall, plants, animals, and letting that guide us to making better choices for ourselves, and as a society that better fit with the constraints of where we live.

It also means understanding the human elements of a place. Of the culture, the history, the social makeup, both ugly and beautiful that can guide us to better understand how we got to where we are today, and lead us to a better future.

By understanding our place, we cease to be residents, and instead become inhabitants – that is part of our home places. This sometimes revolutionary act, of opening our eyes and ears, can move us from being solely defined by human made borders to citizens of natural ones instead, and reshift our identities from American or Canadian nationalities instead to our bioregions, watersheds, communities and home.

Many of the social ills that we are working to confront and heal stem from being disconnected from place. Economic systems that are removed from the impacts of it’s extraction, production and human costs. That shift people across cities, regions and continents, uprooted from familial structures and intergenerational wealth, knowledge and learning. Technology that heightens isolation and a removal from our natural environments. Through a sense of place we develop a richer personal connection to our bioregions and the communities which live within them, our commitments to each other and our homes, and a greater appreciation of the incredible interconnected systems we are a part of.

How to Develop a Sense of Place

  • Get to know where you live. Take walks, identify plants and animals. How do things change with the seasons? Why does your area have the types of weather it does? What’s the geology like?
  • Learn the lived history – how did the place you live get it’s name? How long has it been a city or community? Where did the street names come from? Who lived there before, and what languages did they speak? How did indigenous people live in your region, and what materials and techniques did they employ and why?
  • Spend time: Realize all the rest means nothing if you don’t take the time to experience it. Get outside, cook, garden, immerse yourself, and enrich yourself through learning about place over months and years.

And Lastly – Take what you’ve learned to envision something better, then go out in your community to grow those efforts. Meet fellow reinhabitors, share, learn, connect, grow.

As inhabitants of our places, we are all the experts, and we all have something to share. Bioregionalism is effective because local needs and realities will always be slightly different and more effective than globally standardized monomodels, and that together, all of us working in a shared region have a far greater capacity for real impact and change.


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