Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
--Twain uses his post-Civil War visit to New Orleans to meditate on qualities of the southern character: what does he value and complain about the "southrons" (as he ironically calls them)?
Friday, October 1, 2010
The grass feels cold and slippery underneath my little bare feet, refreshing in the stifling, humid air of the summertime. The tall pecan trees surrounding the area are like colossal giants to me, selflessly providing me shade to also help beat the heat. The air smells of the sweet fragrance radiating from my mother’s garden of brightly colored flowers of blue, purple, and gold. The scenery of the back of my old, white house with the black shutters whizzes past my eyes as I swing on my old, slightly rusted orange and brown swing set, squeaking as I fly back and forth. My brothers appear out of the little white shed of a garage behind the house, riding their bikes down the rough cement driveway that interrupts the grass. I pick up my plastic bucket out of my green turtle-shaped sandbox, and get busy hunting up rolly pollies, slugs, caterpillars, ladybugs and inchworms to collect in it. Our two dogs that run about on long chains beneath the blossoming dogwood tree, for we do not have a fence, bark at a robin resting itself on the gray cement birdbath for a drink. I pet their soft tan and brown heads consolingly as they lick me with their slobbery tongues. This was a typical summer day spent in the backyard of my childhood home in the heart of downtown Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.
My backyard was not a space, but a place to me. It brings back fond memories of my childhood spent playing in it and the happiness I felt at the time. I absolutely loved that backyard, how it felt like my own little world, my Wonderland. Since I have such a strong emotional attachment to it, I consider it a place. It was not a public space, but privately owned by my family. It was a place not used for productivity or business-purposes, but one used for leisure, fun, and play. Primarily my family, and occasionally family friends used it. When the weather was satisfactory, I would play in the backyard almost every day. I became familiar with every inch of the place to the extent that I still remember it clearly today.
This place was used most often by me after my older brothers were old enough to go to school. After school sometimes they would use the driveway to shoot hoops in the basketball hoop, or ride their bikes around on it. My mother would use it to tend to her garden surrounding the back of the house, sometimes with me helping by digging holes in the black dirt and dropping in the tiny seeds. My father, being a workaholic, rarely used the backyard except on weekends when he would mow the grass. I, on the other hand, declared myself Queen of the Yard, and used it as my own personal playground. Playing whatever game of imagination I came up with that day, I would prance around the grass barefoot, against my mother’s protests. The only beings that used the place more than I were our two dogs, which lived outside next to the beautiful dogwood tree. To them, the backyard was their home.
I have a strong positive emotional attachment to the place. It is where some of my fondest memories from childhood took place. The security of its location, being hidden from plain view behind the large house and surrounded by large pecan trees, and the beautiful aspects of nature, such as the living insects, plants, and flowers, act to generate this positive attachment. The place is very much designed to be child friendly, with its swing set and sandbox and basketball hoop. Therefore, as a child it appealed to me, and as I used it more and more, I became attached and loved it. The backyard represents to me now a time when I was happy and ran wild and free.
The difference between a location being described as a space versus being described as a place is relative and subjective. A space is typically defined as a public location designed for productivity. Its layout and atmosphere are not designed to encourage people to want to linger there very long. It is used to be productive, that people move through quickly. A place, on the other hand, is typically defined as a private location, it’s more personal. It’s designed to encourage people to spend a lot of time in. It is used for leisure, personal activities, or living in. Those who use it feel an attachment to it, and are very familiar with it. The defining of a location as a space or a place is highly subjective. For example, if someone works in a location others define as a space, said person may consider it a place instead. I consider my backyard as a place rather than a space because I used it as my personal private area, but someone who did not live there or use the backyard might think of it as a space. My front yard, on the other hand, I would consider a space because it faced a busy street and was a much more public area.
As I think back upon this outside place and what it means to me, I realize why it is so special to me. It is a place that cannot be replaced by any other in my memory that can conjure up such a specific emotional response. I have lived in other houses with other backyards since then in which I also spent time in, but to none of them do I have such a strong emotional attachment. Never in my life have I felt as profoundly free, carefree, uninhibited, joyful, curious, content, and natural as I did when I spent time in that backyard as a child. I had no restrictions or responsibilities, and was free to be myself. The space outside my place, the entire rest of the world, did not matter while I was happy and safe and free in my beautiful backyard of childhood enchantment.
The Northern Country Side
Standing atop the edge of the cliff know as Whitaker Point, I am able to gaze down into the deep valley of leafless oaks and tall green pines. As my eyes follow the tree line to the top of the massive rolling hills of the northern Arkansas countryside, I eventually come across the stark contrast that is the green hilltop and the darkening gray overcast of the sky overhead. A storm is coming. A cool breeze sweeps through the forest and the trees rustle in the wind, the branches and twigs dancing into one another. I still can’t get over the splendor of this vast space. One can truly stand in the wonder that is nature in a virtually untouched section of the American wilderness, in a corner of the country that is mostly all but forgotten.
Northern Arkansas is a truly breathtaking testament to the North American wilderness. Many people have become nearly completely out of touch with. Most of this untamed land is home to a few farms and cattle ranches that seem to appreciate the peace and tranquility the forty-five minute winding drive through the Arkansas Mountains provide them with. The town folks’ attitude toward outsiders is one of hospitality and warmth, even during the cool early spring when my few friends and I departed on this journey. My previous outdoor experiences dealt with southern Missouri; a far less impressive and far more miserable three years I spent wandering the cow pattied fields of Lebanon. Though perhaps this judgment is not quite fair. I have never been to Arkansas in the summer months. Almost everyone in the town is friendly with one another. In a town with no more than one hundred or so people, I do not see how it is possible to not know everyone. The town primarily consists of a dirt road that runs through the middle of a couple general stores as well as hunting and boat shops. One small inn sits at the edge of town. Being the most modern establishment of the bunch, it still keeps the signature outward appearance of a large log cabin.
Aside from raising cattle, the main lifeblood of this town is tourism. This is unfortunate; it is the tourist that is the only negative thing about this space. Though scarce, they make their presence known with ignorant laughter or complaining about Internet access. It sits on the edge of a national park, home to hundreds of grazing elk and the Buffalo National River. The close-knit community is one that you immediately feel at home with. The old man that help us cut our fire wood told us to just take the rest of his pile cause he was having a good day. The ins and outs of slimy businessmen are replaced with friendly bargaining and people doing good to others for the sole reason of being good. The children run around in bare feet while the dogs run along side them, barking and yipping with joy and ecstasy. Everything here begins and ends with a handshake, such a simple sign of respect among friends and strangers alike is foreign however refreshing to me.
Stepping outside of the general store and loading the firewood into the back of our truck I can already smell the freshness of the air and tingling sensation I get when I smell freshly split pine.
“Now these logs here are a bit wet cause’ they was on the bottom, see? But,” the old man bends over for another load, “you should have no problem getting those ones lit as soon as you get this other stuff burnin’” The last load of thinly split fire wood is thrown into the truck bed as his wrinkled face crinkles with a smile and sigh of relief. No matter your age here, you work. I am not sure anyone knows of their age until they die. Even then all they know is that they were too old to keep living. While loading the wood into the truck, my friend and I told the man that he could let us get the rest of the logs. This invitation was not well received. For a moment we were afraid we had insulted the old timer, but with a quick laugh he assured us that, “there is plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.”
Driving back to camp, windows down, we could hear nothing but the hum of the engine and the sounds of the wood. The wind was picking up and we could hear the hawks screeching and cows serenading as if we were in some Wild West film. It was the romance of it all that brought us to so intimately begin to love this space. Life here was something to be enjoyed. You had the time to hear the water rushing from somewhere in the forest, meals were never a rush, the people embraced you as if you had known them for twenty years before that moment, and the sight of elk grazing at the base of some step rolling hillside gave you this feeling of security and ease. The only pressure in life was to live.
The first hill I walked up was a deceivingly long trek. The pile of leaves, which covered the entire forest floor, came up to my mid-shins. My thighs began to burn and I couldn’t stop coughing as the fresh country air cleaned out my city lungs. In this part of the world, you work for everything you get, but once you get to the top, the reward is insurmountably greater than the bloody shins you get tripping over the barbwire hidden by the overgrowth of forest. For miles and miles the only view was rolling hills of trees. The three-mile hike to Whitaker Point is to be a far more treacherous hike.
The next day, we awoke as soon as the sun poked its head out from its visit from some other countryside. That day we made our way down into the valley and walked along a frequently trodden path following a small creek. At the end of the hike our troop looked up at a waterfall, at the mouth of which was a cave. The low entrance meant that my nearly six and a half foot frame had to duck. There is something about being away from the pressures of society that is liberating. I suspect that the people here will live far more fulfilling lives than I will, and I assume that they think the same of an outside like me. It is this assumption that I hope to keep a space such as this a rarely visited piece of America. An overexposure to simplicity eventually becomes a bore, I don’t ever want this to happen, nor do I think it will.
At the end of the day, we took a three-mile hike through the woods. Though the tall anorexic trees provided us with no foliage, however the setting sun at this point did not pose much of a threat. Standing at the edge of the cliff I discarded most of my clothes and soaked in every sense of the event unfolding before me. The sun was setting behind the hills to the east. As the sun disappeared, the clouds began to gather and the wind swept through the valley and shot up the side of the cliff. Not inches from plummeting to my death, I closed my eyes and smelled the air of an uninfected slice of nature. My bare and aching feet, now cooled by the stone below, planted firmly and reassuring me I would not fall. Something I experience everyday, just without all the distraction. This is a space that is unique, especially in a world where such uniqueness is not often appreciated.
McCubbin's Point is located about twenty-five minutes down a curvy lake road. Unless one lives around the lake, one would not ever know this cove existed. One of the reasons this cove has turned into a place for me, is the trip I have to take on this road to get there. I remember as a little girl my mother would take my sister and I to the lake every Saturday. We would each get to pick out a soda and a bag of chips. Looking out the window, I would be able to see glimpses of the lake in between the spaces of trees. As the radio blared inside the car, and the wind blew through the open windows and would tangle my hair. With our mother being unable to hear us, my sister and I would share secrets in the backseat. On these trips my sister and I slowly changed from enemies over toys to best friends and confidantes.
The dock itself is a simple wooden dock and extends about six feet over the water, just far enough from the bank to be able to safely jump off of into the cool greenish blue water below. When sitting on the dock, one is surrouned by water with picnic areas and large oak trees in the background with water in the front. When the sun is just starting to go down, the light reflects off of each current and makes the surface seem to sparkle. Across the water front, is the shore, decorated with bluffs covered in massive oak and maple trees. While sitting on the dock, one is facing the western direction, so that when the sun finally goes down, one is able to see the most beautiful sunsets.
This small cove is definitely a beautiful landscape. However, the memories I have made there make it a place to me. Everyone uses the cove and the dock for recreation. Families camp out and enjoy picnics. My best friends and I would camp out during the summer, sometimes for a week at a time. On these trips, we were able to taste freedom with the safety of our parents being right down the road. Small children make sand castles (out of dirt, we don't have sand) and play frisbee. During the early morning, older men fish and this is where my father taught me how to fish, how to bait a hook, and how to be quiet, to be still, and to listen. My father and I still have an amazing bond, and I accredit these early mornings on the dock for that.
After the sun goes down, the cove is supposed to be closed. However, this is when the teenagers come out to party or a couple will come out to get some alone time. After the sun went down completely, and I was older, my sister and I would sneak out of our house and go to the dock. We would lay down on dock with blankets and look at the stars. We would talk about what we wanted out of life and what made us frightened. We would always keep a close eye on the time so that we could sneak back in before our parents realized we were gone. After I started college, and met a boy, I brought him to the dock and he would read, and I would write. We would have picnis and we got to know each other even better.
The way I know that McCubbin's Point has become a place for me is how it affects me when I go home and visit. Sitting on the dock, with my feet in the cool water, I feel as if I am truly home. It suddenly doesn't matter if my parents have turned my old bedroom to a craft room or that my old high school is now housing kindergarteners. Even if my hometown feels somewhat alien, McCubbin's Point has not changed at all. When life gets incredibly hard, I know that I can drive to my dock, sit down, put my feet in the water and feel comforted. Sitting on the dock, I remember where I came from and who I am. I am able to gain peace, and look around me and see beauty. I am able to remember the lessons I have learned at the cove. I remember to sit still, be quiet, and I remember who and what is important to me. This simple wooden dock in a hidden cove is a safe haven for me and with all the things it reminds me of, it has become my place.
Every Thanksgiving and most summers, my parents, my sister and I would take the long 9-hour car trip to my grandparent’s house located in the town of Pretty Prairie, Kansas. It sounds like a small town, and is even smaller, with a population that has stayed at about 600 people for what has been most of my life, and as a kid that had grown up in the suburbs of St. Louis, an entire town made up of just 600 people was abnormal. Whenever we went to Pretty Prairie, my family started talking about their memories of growing up in that town; my sister and dad, who did not even grow up in that town had stories and fond memories of it. I found that I had none, though, and the memories I did have weren’t memories that I enjoyed. Pretty Prairie has always been associated with boredom, isolation and being removed from my friends for an extended period of time. For my family, extended and nuclear, Pretty Prairie was a place that had a happy and nostalgic attachment for them, but to me, it could not have more of a negative connotation. It’s a place for me, as well, but not even remotely in the same sense that it is to my family.
Pretty Prairie is a very small town with no stoplights, one gas station, one elementary school, one high school, two churches; one Mennonite and one United Methodist, and a rodeo. That’s the bulk of the town, and there is really nothing else notable about it. The most exciting thing that happens to Pretty Prairie ever year is its rodeo every summer, and while it does attract thousands of people ever year, rodeos have never been my "scene". I am very much the type of person, who needs some sort of excitement, stimulation or something to do. I would feel most at home in a city, or where I currently live, the suburbs of a city, because there is always something to do. Sights, sounds, events and buildings are all something that I enjoy in a town, or city and Pretty Prairie has none of that. My family is made up of small-town people, even my sister, who grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, and they are fine with the quiet, lackadaisical life of Pretty Prairie, but when I don’t have that excitement in a town, I become uninterested and need something more to do. When I think of all the time I have spent in Pretty Prairie, I can only think of the tediousness that I felt during each visit.
The town was made up of farmers, elderly people who had lived there their entire life, and families that had been there for many years, and my grandparents have been there since the 1890’s. Everyone knows each other and if you aren’t recognized by the townspeople, you’re given odd looks and treated with suspicion. Since we came yearly, we knew a few people, and the people in the town recognized us, but I never felt the kind of connection that my mom and eventually my dad and sister did. I suppose it’s because they were in a small town that I had no connection to that I felt no connection to the people, but my family had no problems with it, even though they had not grown up there. Perhaps if I had grown up in the town, like my mom had, or I had connections to the people there and they were my friends, it would be a place that had a more positive connotation, but it never was.
Most of my dislike towards Pretty Prairie comes from childhood, and even on trips where I tend to enjoy myself, I cannot get rid of the feeling of disdain I have towards it. When I was a child, my sister and I did not get along, which is not uncommon amongst brother and sisters at that age, but it gave me a feeling of isolation while I was there. My sister and I did not have much communication, and I certainly did not want to spend a lot of time with my parents or grandparents, because as a child, and even to a certain extent now, I wanted to spend time with people my own age. As a teenager, I was far too rebellious to want to be around them. The one group of friends I did make in that town had been accused of vandalizing someone’s home in the area and stealing from their garage, so I could no longer play with them. So these feelings of boredom and loneliness stemmed from childhood and were only further instilled through more visits.
Another reason I have such a negative emotional attachment to this place is because the few times I have been in Pretty Prairie, it has been because of funerals. My great grandmother and grandfather have died within the past two years and are the reason for my past visits in the last two years, sadly, and as a result, it’s been tough to separate the feelings of those funerals from the town, especially with my grandfather’s funeral. I was closest to him on my mom’s side of the family and always loved seeing him whenever we visited. He was diagnosed with cancer the year before he died, and fought it until the end, but because of my closeness to him and his state whenever I visited before he died, along with his funeral, has caused me to attach another negative association with Pretty Prairie. My family has been back to visit since both funerals to go see the town rodeo, which from what I have been told, are a lot of fun, but since I’ve had work obligations both times, I have been unable to go. Maybe if I had the chance to go with them to the rodeo, I would not have such negative feelings for this town, but since the past two or three visits have been for primarily bad news, it’s difficult to be happy when I think about Pretty Prairie.
Maybe if I had more time in Pretty Prairie, grew up there, or had a better appreciation for small-town life, I would have a better emotional attachment to it, because it’s a beautiful little town, and can be very relaxing, but at this point in my life, I am not looking for relaxing, I want excitement, energy and things to do. I can understand the love and affection my family has towards the town, but it appears that I will never quite have that same appreciation for it, due to the associations I have made with it in childhood and in more recent times. I think that with time, better trips, I will come to enjoy Pretty Prairie, but for now, it remains one of my least favorite places to visit.
As I have developed as an adult, the problem has developed as well. It reached a crescendo in the spring of 2009. Amongst five writing jobs, extra curricular activities, a serious girlfriend and school, it crossed my head fleetingly, like most of my other ideas — you should be better at golf.
And so the addiction started. I poured cash and time into golf, because, unlike anything before, it was a challenge that required my full attention at all times. Disrespect the game, and you'll feel the wrath.
It was said that golf is a game that is played on a six inch course, the course between your ears. That's entirely factual.
I moved to an apartment that overlooks the ninth hole of a golf course this summer. The ninth hole is my place.
It seems ironic, but there is a zen-like quality to hole No.9. Despite being, literally, right next to an interstate highway, the noise of the cars and trucks disappears as you tee up the ball.
The hole is 511 yards, a par-5. The challenge of the hole isn't it's length, it's the challenge of how you play the hole.
A dogleg right, towering trees blind you from the fairway. The trees are daunting, but they are taunt you to hit over them, giving you an easy second shot to the green and a eagle opportunity. The alternative is to play conservatively, and play an easy shot straight ahead, breaking up the hole and giving you an easy two shot play to the green.
Standing on the tee box, a stream runs to your left. Beavers have built a dam 20 feet away from the tee box and sometimes they run right past you in to grab twigs and branches of trees broken from errant tee shots hooked into the thick forest that runs along the stream.
When it's a perfect day, I'll hit two balls on No.9, I'll play the aggressive shot first — a bellwether of my day. If I hit my drive just right, the ball will go straight up in the air, slice a bit to the right and finally descend from the clouds 125 yards away from the green. I've only hit the shot perfectly three times. Every time I have failed, the simple lifestyle of the beaver feels more and more attractive. But when I hit the ball just right, I feel like I can conquer the world. Hell, I conquered a golf ball and a challenging hole, how hard can everything else be?
I have downplayed the conservative shot. It is, in-fact treacherous in it's own way. You might be staring at a field of unabated green in front of you, but that green is undulated by hills and flanked by equally hilly sand.
The rough grass does it's name proud. In the summer, when temperatures soar to 100 degrees, the rough remains thick and green while the earth beneath it dies and dries up as hard as a frying pan. When it rains, the grass remains the same vivid green, as the frying pan earth changes it's consistency to that of a runny egg. The deception is sometimes enough to take five strokes away from you, making the conservative route a pain and the aggressive route, if unsuccessful, a nightmare.
When you approach your shot, you see the green for the first time. The very same creek that runs past the tee box loops back around and creates a moat suited for a king green. The fairway narrows, and so does your focus. As you stare at the green from a distance, the fact that it is elevated stands out. The goal is to get yourself, materialized in a small ball, to the green, which is guarded, but ironically accessible.
Gut check time. Your conservative tee shot gives you 225 yards to the green. Hit the ball straight and nothing can stop you from reaching the green easily. Do you bust out the long iron and go for the green, or take an easy shot, setting up a routine play. Every day we face this question, go for the goal quickly or be patient and calculated. Only on the golf course is the decision made so easily and quickly.
But some days, you don't have the luxury of taking the big risk or going for the easy shot. Some days your conservative shot goes in the sand, and most days trying to go over the trees results in you being with the trees — a hundred pinball bumpers hoping to rename your ball Rick O'Shea. The smart decision would be to putt the ball out of the narrow woods and to the fairway. But, like in life, the aggressive play that fails usually illicit more aggressive play. Only experience can tell you to take the smart play. Experience and a welt from a deflected golfball.
If you think the rough is bad, you don't know the sand. With any normal set of sand traps, you can adjust yourself and make a respectable shot. Not here. No, here you are standing nearly a foot above your ball, making anything other than a 10-foot "get out of here shot" nearly impossible. The sand trap forces you to admit defeat and play for another hole.
Eventually, the ball ends up on the green. Some routes take longer than others. Some routes are more frustrating than others. Each journey unique in its challenges, even if the end result is the same.
The aggressive play, sometimes rewarded with jubilation and a conquering mentality, but more often distain and defeat, or the conservative play, which gets the result without the adventure.
I play both on the good days. It's too nice not to. But when I have one hole to play and one ball left in the bag, I go for the aggressive play. I want the story, the adventure of grand success or excellent defeat. It's a telling story of my life that I needed my place told me.
Drive through Washington, Missouri on Friday night in the fall. You will see light resonate from three places in the town. One, of course, is Wal-Mart. The other two places are the football fields of the two local high schools in Washington, Saint Francis Borgia and Washington. The field at Borgia is the field I care about, though. As you may have guessed I went to high school there and I played football for them. If you were wondering, no, I was not a star. However, that does not change the way I feel when I return to that field. Whether the stands are completely empty on a Wednesday or full of screaming fans on a Friday night, this place evokes an excitement and energy in me that few places do. The field at Borgia now looks quite a bit different than it did when I played on it. The grass has been replaced with artificial turf, the track is finally regulation size, and the press box is new, big, and sparkling blue. Still, though, standing on the field before a game I recently went back to see made me realize that, even though I wouldn’t say this about many things, I would go back for another game in front of all those fans.
If you make your way to Borgia’s football field on an autumn night in fall, the first thing you’ll see is cars. Tons of them, so many that, in fact, you most likely won’t find a parking spot unless you get there a couple hours early. If you are lucky enough to find a spot, you’ll find plenty of people grilling burgers and hotdogs in the parking lot. You’ll also hear the band blaring away, trying to get the fans ready for the game. The field is above the high school but below the Knights of Columbus hall, almost in the middle of what is cleverly referred to as the K.C. hill. Naturally you will have to walk some stairs. When you get to the field the most eye-catching structure is the shiny new press box. Its usually filled with announcers and writers wolfing down a bunch of food before the game. The place to keep your eye on, though, is the student section. It is not all that big but it’s always packed full of people and loud no matter what. There are tons of chants and cheers that have been yelled for years that continue to fill the air. Of course the loudest cheers are reserved for when the team takes the field. Don’t plan on having any conversations at this particular time; it’s not just to loud to hear, it’s too loud to form thoughts. My favorite part of the setting, at least since I have been out of high school, is the concession stand. They make good food, and the best part is that it’s cheap. To this point, I have described a space through which many people move and with which many interact. The most important part of this setting, though, and the part that makes it a place for me, is, of course, the field.
The field is used for a game. On Fridays in the fall a bunch of teenagers go out and play as if nothing else matters. In truth, I suppose it matters very little. As I move through college and life that fact becomes more and more apparent. That is why the emotions I feel simply from stepping on this field, whether empty or roaring with fans, are all the more amazing to me. I cannot help it. A cool evening breeze hits me in the face and a chill literally goes down my spine. I want to run, I want to hit, I want to compete. It is fall, it’s Friday, and, at least for those few seconds, it feels like it’s time for football. And if given the chance, even knowing now that it’s really not all that important, I would go out there and play like nothing else mattered once again. That is why the football field at Saint Francis Borgia is a place to me. This place can take me, a relatively mature adult, want to be a kid again.
For many people the football field at Borgia is just a space, devoid of emotion. For the track team it is just what happened to be in the center of the track they ran on. For visiting fans it’s just one of the many fields they went and watched their sons play on. For those who never played football maybe it’s just a place to go see a couple hours of entertainment. To the people who played there each week, though, and most certainly to me it is a place that still brings about strong emotions. It gets me excited and energized. It reminds me of all the fun I had. I remember my friend Tyler Filla, who died less than a year after graduation, running down the field even after his helmet had been ripped off, with no regard for his own safety, because at that moment nothing else mattered to him. When I’m there it somehow makes me feel like those meaningless high school football games are once again the only important things. I’m an ignorant teenager again. And it’s a feeling would not trade for anything.
Space and place are terms, which are generally used interchangeable. I do not usually pay attention to what word I use in which instance, but now that I have to distinguish between them, I see that there are distinctions. But, I do not believe I would have been able to find their separating qualities without our class discussion. Space is something you use for one certain purpose, but after that it holds no meaning. In a space you are able to move freely through it without any emotional connection to it. An example of a space is a gas station. Generally, all gas stations look similarly and are meant for one purpose. They are not designed, or intended to create attachment, it is merely a means to an end. On the contrary, a place is more specific. A place is somewhere that holds meaning to someone. A place is special to one person, not everyone has the same connection to that location. An example of a place is the house you grew up in. To other people, your childhood house is just a typical house, it is a space, but to you it is meaningful. You hold a personal connection to that house, and to you it is a place. To most people, the Gladstone Theatre in the Park Amphitheatre is a space, but to me it is a place. This theatre holds a very special place in my heart.
The amphitheater is in Oak Grove Park, in Gladstone, Missouri. Since it is an outdoor theatre, there is no seating, only the stage. The building is a permanent structure with a six fly system, orchestra pit, two light trellises, and a dressing room. The park itself is small and intimate. The community is also little, so it fits them perfectly. The program is volunteer based, but the City of Gladstone funds the overall production. At each show buckets are passed around through the audience to gather donations to help pay for maintenance and improvements on the theatre. When Van and Susie Ibsen started the program, the stage was portable and the shows were short. As the program grew, a permanent stage was built in the park. The entire stage burned down though, and was rebuilt with the honorary title of “Ibsen Stage”. The theatre is not very different from any other outdoor theatre, but what it means to the people involved it was makes it different. The feeling people have toward this theatre is what qualifies it as a place, not a space.
As I said, a place is a location that you have an emotional connection to, and the Ibsen Stage is one that I feel very strongly connected to. Dance and theatre have been a major part of my life since I can remember. I spent every summer out at Oak Grove Park, watching shows, performing in them, or working on them. That stage became my second home; it is where most of my good memories come from. To this day, if I feel sad, alone, anxious, anything, I go up to the park and I am able to relax. When I am on the stage I do not have to think about anything else. The stage brings me excitement, love, and enjoyment. I am able to connect with people I may have never met by being on that stage. By watching me perform, people believe they know me, and I them. Just being in the park brings back all the good memories. All of the standing ovations, all of the whistles, all of the pictures taken, it makes me feel special and like I am impacting the lives of others. The stage itself may not do anything, but what it allows for is great. The stage itself is not what I am connected to; it is the combination of the stage, the park, and the memories that go along with them.
I realize that the stage is just a building, but that does not matter. That building brings people together. That structure brings about ten thousand people a night to watch a performance. It brings people from all over the community together, when in everyday life they would never cross paths. The stage will be there for a very long time. Other parts of my life may be changing, but I am always able to return to it. It never loses its meaning, because I will never forget those memories. It will remain a place to me forever, because I will remember everything wonderful that happened while I was there, forever.
A place, to me is a location that feels like more than a structure or piece of land, it holds a place in your heart unlike any other. There are many locations that are special to me, but none that jump in to my head like Gladstone Theatre in the Park. My house from when I grew up holds a lot of memories, but it does not give me the same feeling. When I think about my family the memories are stronger than when I think of the house I lived in. I do not see many of the people I did theatre with any more though, but I can always go and visit that stage. The stage is what holds all the memories. That stage is where I met my first boyfriend, and my best friend. Another friend was proposed to on that stage. The last time my grandparents were able to watch me dance was on that stage. I learned a lot about myself by doing theatre there, and I was able to overcome many fears I once had. That theatre is what showed me what I love and why I love it. Without that theatre I would never have been able to realize my love for theatre and dance. Without those experiences, I would not be the same person I am today. A place is more than a location, it is a treasure. No one else will ever feel the same way I do about that stage, but that it was makes it special, it is my own connection that no one else will ever have, and no one else will ever be able to take away from me, and that is why Ibsen Stage is a place, not a space.
I’m from a rural area that has more farmland than people. The only seasons are green and brown. Summer, fall, winter, and most of spring blend together. In a town where the only place to go on a Friday night is Wal-Mart, teenagers had to find entertainment in any place they could. In high school my friends rediscovered our love of parks. It was free, close, and the only oasis of green in a world full of brown. Getzandaner Memorial Park in the neighboring town was where we began to find refuge.
The first time I went there it was large and overwhelmingly. The park is 33 acres, but the part with play equipment is between two and three acres. Once you pass the wooden sign declaring, “Getzendaner Park,” you drive on one-way, asphalt, oval, which encircles the actual play equipment. There are trees, slides, bathrooms, numerous swing sets, and picnic tables. The trees seem to canopy the entire area, so the children are always playing in the shade, and if you swing high enough, stick your legs straight up, and point your toes, you can almost touch the leaves hanging from their branches. This is not what interests me though. Behind the play equipment, and over the wooden bridge, there are narrow dirt paths that dissect, and wind. No matter, which one you take, you end up peering over the edge of the creek, or facing a barbwire fence, equipped with a “No Trespassing” sign, that protects a wheat field from hooligans. In this wooded area there are fallen trees, and large trees whose trunks are protected by thorns, and all kinds of undergrowth, that you should not dawdle in. The fallen trees are perfect for climbing upon, and announcing to your friends your dominion over them.
There is a six-mile concrete trail that begins in Getzandaner Park, hugs the Waxahachie creek, follows the tracks of an abandoned railroad for a while, goes to Lion’s Park, and then backtracks back to Getzendaner. The trail passes Waxahachie Rodeo Arena and Fairgrounds, Rogers Street Bridge south of downtown Waxahachie, and the Old City Cemetery. One day in June, my friend Lauren and I decided to run the entire length of the trail. When we first decided on this feat we really did mean to run the length of the trail. We started on the east side of the park and began jogging west. Along the path there are periodic benches dedicated to certain members of the community, posted signs that encourage you to do muscle training, and granite markers that keep you updated on your progress. There is a granite marker every quarter mile, and there is a business that donated to the trail engraved on the stone.
As we jogged along, I began to familiarize the place. I had always wandered around on the North side of the creek, but now I stood on its opposite banks, and saw things from a different perspective. When I had thought of the park before, my mental map just showed a blob of green on the outskirts of town. Once we started exploring the trail, my mental map began to take shape and form. It wound one way then another. The creek passed under this, across this, over there. I began to draw the winding creek, and the trail’s dedication to it, as we ran along. The park was not a green blob. The creek was a green river that emptied out into the park like a lake.
We jogged past the creek and wooded area, over a wooden bridge, across the abandoned railroad, and across Roger’s Street Bridge. When we reached the other side we noticed an overlook area that was bordered with an iron gate. We noticed that if you jumped over the gate, and too the right, you would land on a large stone. From there you could climb down on top of an eroding drainpipe, and then drop onto the banks of the creek. We promptly did just that. We began to pick our way across the bank. It was early summer so the creek was low, and whenever we needed to cross over to the next bank we would pick up rocks and throw them into the water. We explored the creek for some time. The banks on either side were at least 10 feet tall, and if we used the roots of trees, we could climb up. I became familiar with its currents, and the downward slopes, where the water would begin to tumble over the rocks. The water began to talk here and we would sit and listen to the words it was saying to the world. We went back to the drainage pipe, and climber back up to the top.
Once we had made it back to the original overlook, and climbed back onto the cement sidewalk, we were ready to continue our jog. The rest of the trail was completely in shade. The trees overhung the sidewalk and intertwined their branches with the trees on the other side of the path. The path doubled back upon itself at Lion’s Park. Like everywhere else in Texas in early June the entire park was brown. It was more of a field with one play set sitting alone in the midst of this. Disappointed, we headed back. We went past the same scenery over again, and by the last mile of the trip, darkness had settled over the trail. The summer lightening bugs came out to greet us, and we followed their blinking lights back to my car.
Lauren and I would make this trip several times over the next two years of high school; sometimes alone and sometimes together. This expansive space, had taken on the shape of a place. It was no longer a space I wondered at, but a place I knew. I knew which bridge was my favorite to linger on, because of the view. I knew which benches were the best for people watching, and which were the best for nature watching. I knew the curves of the path and knew my distance from any given point without the mile markers. It is a place that has not changed, and which I still visit, when I go home.
The cities act like street signs to warn me how close I am to home as I drive west toward my Kansas City suburb on I-70.
“Welcome to Odessa: Caution: Close to Independence.”
“Welcome to Grain Valley: Ten minutes from Independence, please be advised.”
“Welcome to Blue Springs: five minutes from Independence, turn around.”
Then, finally, Exit 15: “Welcome to Independence, can’t say we didn’t warn you.”
I’ve gotten to the point now where I always drive into my hometown at night. That way, by the time I pull into my driveway, I can squint my eyes and just pretend like I’m not surrounded by the home and neighborhood I was reared at. I could be anywhere. Not here, but anywhere else.
It’s early September, and the weather is something I can just feel anytime I want, as I walk in toward the house. The oppressive Missouri summer heat is gone, and the still air feels perfect for the first time in months. Fall is hinting at its arrival, but it’s not something you can see yet. No orange leaves littering your yard, begging for you and your friends to rake them into a pile on the east side of the house big enough to jump in. You just start to feel it.
And it’s annoying. The last place I want to find myself after spending three years carving out a new life in college is this stale place.
I pause on my mom’s porch just long enough to hear the traffic from the highway, just two blocks north. Even in the early hours of the morning, 18-wheelers can be heard moving through the heart of this soulless city. As a kid, my mom never let me go farther south than that highway. Now that I’m old enough to get that far from the house, I don’t ever like coming back.
I pause, set my stuff down, and grab a seat on the sagging, slanted bench on Mom’s porch, the one that was my go-to spot when the kid that lived next door, Josh I think his name was, would come over to trade Pokemon cards.
I let my guard down for the first time, and look up the street that runs north from Mom’s house. But I didn’t really need to do that. I can see that road without my eyes. Hell, I could drive that road without my eyes. It’s uphill, curves left, swerves right, then dumps off on another road after about eight seconds of driving. Turn left and that road dumps off on another in about three seconds. Take a right there, head up the hill and wait at the stoplight that takes for–fucking–ever.
You can get anywhere from that stupid light. That stoplight is six minutes from my high school–four with good traffic. It’s seven minutes from my high school girlfriend’s house. It’s two minutes from McDonald’s. Three minutes from Richard’s Sunfresh, formerly known as Richard’s IGA, formerly my family’s go-to grocer.
But none of that matters. This isn’t my home. That stupid stoplight isn’t my stoplight. That street that curves left then swerves right isn’t my street. This bench isn’t my bench. I’ve got my own stoplight, now, my own street, my own porch.
This town is a dump and this neighborhood is dead. Everyone is white trash and unemployed. It was something I cared about only because it was all that I knew. Columbia is home. Columbia is alive. Things happen there. I’m an adult there. Not here.
No, this space isn’t mine. Not anymore, anyway.
I put my head down and drive my legs through the pedals on my BMX bike. It’s a silver Dyno. It’s awesome.
I build up speed as fast as my bike will carry me then lay off the pedals as I show off by putting my hands behind my head. I coast down the road perpendicular to mine. The early summer morning air whips my short, brown hair around and is doing the same to my best friend, Craig, as he coasts on his bike next to me.
We cut in behind the corner house and, ignoring the “DO NOT ENTER” sign posted in front of the tunnels behind the house, go inside.
We ride down the long cavern, and the other side is the entrance to a bunch of trails Craig and I ride every day, and another sign, this one reading “NO TRESPASSING”. We, of course, ignore it. Mom and dad are at work and, now that I’m 12, my big sister doesn’t really care if I go ride my bike around. She doesn’t know we go back on the trails, and it’s probably best that I keep it that way.
The trail opens up into a huge clearing. These woods are owned by the city, but the trails, and this giant clearing with all its ramps and slopes, have been built by local BMXers like Craig and me. Mom doesn’t like me out here, probably because it’s in the middle of woods a mile from my house. Whatever. I know my way around my neighborhood. I’m not getting lost. This is my neighborhood, my home. I’m fine.
Craig and I spend the most of the morning working on a ramp we’ve been building out here, and then start ramping over it. These bike trails might be Independence’s best-kept secret. I’ll be riding my bike back here forever.
Around noon, it gets too hot to be outside riding around on bikes, so Craig and I decide to ride back to his house, where he has a pool. On our ride back, we talk about how awesome it will be when we turn 16 and get our driver’s licenses. How awesome it will be to drive ourselves to high school. How awesome it will be to go to the movie theater and mall over on 39th Street without our parents. How awesome it will be to be able to go get fast food whenever we want. This neighborhood is ours now, in a few years this city will be ours, we say.
I’m back in Columbia a few weeks later. My friend’s girlfriend, who is from a really wealthy Kansas City suburb called Brookside, is talking about home.
“What did you guys think about Independence when you were growing up?” I ask.
She doesn’t even hesitate. “White trash. Old.”
I knew the answer was coming, but I feel aggravation beginning to bubble under my skin.
That’s my home you’re talking about, chick. Sorry I didn’t grow up in a fucking Brookside villa with the Desperate Housewives. Sure its got warts. Find me somewhere that doesn't.
Whatever. I rejoin conversation and forget about what she said.
It doesn’t matter to me anyway, right?
There are two ways one could describe the creek and the surrounding woods; either a space or a place. Space, as defined by Hubbard, is "characterized by velocity, heterogeneity, and flow" (43). Place, however, is defined by Hubbard as "bounded and meaningful" (43). With these definitions in mind, I would choose to describe the creek as a place, or specifically, "my" place. To some this area is just a space in which wildlife grows and flourishes, a space in which the local children go to get messy and full of bug bites and poison ivy. To me, this is a place where I could go to be alone, to be with friends, to plan adventures and be free from the constraints of the rules of adult society.
Perhaps it would be prudent to describe more fully the place that I like to call mine. The creek divides my backyard and the Schroeder Farm. The tree on which I sit is just within the limits of the farmer's property. The roots had grown deep into the bank of the creek and with years of erosion from the constant flow of water, the roots were exposed. The tips of the roots turned right and grew back into the earth, which left an expanse of roots that were sturdy and quite comfortable; creating the perfect sitting spot. I sit among the roots and dip my feet in the water as I watch the little minnows swim to and fro. The wind picks up, rustling the boughs of the trees and I can smell the wildflowers that grow on the banks of the creek. The quiet whispers of the leaves and sweet smell brings memories of the summers I used to spend here with my friends, gallivanting in the creek and the woods. The sunshine peeks through the leaves and branches of the trees lining the water that create an enclosed but free little world.
As I sit musing, the cows grazing in the pasture behind get curious and come over to greet me. I used to observe these cows a great deal when I was younger, as they are strange creatures. There is always an adventurous cow or two that would come over with the calves to see what I was up to. I loved watching them grow from little calves that could barely run without falling over to fat cows that basked in the sunny pasture all day. These creatures are so simple in their day to day lives. Their only tasks for the day are to graze and sleep and, if I just happened to be there, they come and stare at me with their big, docile eyes hardly blinking, while chewing on cud and, occasionally, look longingly at the creek. At one time, I believe the fence that divides their pasture from the creek and my backyard was nonexistent and these cows would have been able to bathe in the cool creek water, but the development of my neighborhood has cut them away from that.
Scanning the water below me, I search for any poisonous snakes or snapping turtles that may take a liking to my flesh and, finding none, I jump into the creek. Now the water in this part of the creek is about five feet deep, one of the deepest parts of the stream, and it is the best spot to swim. My friends and I would swim here as children when the Missouri summer would become too much to bear. We would splash each other and a brave few (I was always too afraid to do this myself) would climb to the first limb of the tree and cannonball in; an impressive feat as the limb was extremely difficult to climb onto as it was six feet up the trunk of the tree. We would imagine that we had the spirit of Huckleberry Finn, wanting to be outdoors and having the freedom that we always desired. We would swim all day and, to dry off, we would go back to sitting on the tree root, warming ourselves in the sun and letting the soft summer breeze sweep over us without a care in the world.
The root chair was also the best spot to catch the local wildlife. My friends had a fascination with the mudpuppies and crawdads that hid at the bottom of the water. We would watch out for anything that moved on the floor of the creek, and if we were lucky, we could catch the mudpuppies as they tried to scamper out of their holes to fetch food. My friends would try to take them home in a tank, but I could never bring myself to entrap one of these strange animals. Mudpuppies are a type of salamander that live in Missouri creeks and, in a way, they were cute with their flat bodies and the fringed gills. They deserved to live out their lives in the peaceful creek that was their home, where they were free, not in a water tank to be stared and poked at my small children. I have to say I have liberated a fair share of mudpuppies from the greedy hands of my friends.
As I muse on the memories I have of this spot, I realize how much of it is no longer there. The developing community has taken its toll on the creek. Houses were built right along the creek, and in order to stop the flooding that occurs every year in spring due to the rainstorms, the city widened the creek. They have taken out many trees and plants that were essential to the ecosystem of creek life. I no longer see the animals that once gave me joy to see, though the cows still come up to say hello, and I am glad that part has not changed. My tree is still there, the roots still providing rest to anyone who searches for it. This little part is still enclosed from the outside world, but the outside world has grown bigger while this one grew smaller.
There is no way I could ever think of this as a simple space. This place is too complex and holds too much to ever be that simple. Even with all of the changes that have occurred since my childhood, I still consider this creek, this tree to be "my" place, as it holds my memories and my adventurous spirit; it still gives me the freedom that I desire. I am as much of a part of this place as is the tree, the cows, and the ever present creek.
Pulling into my grandpa’s (Papa) West Des Moines neighborhood elicits a wide range of emotions from me, ranging from exhilaration to nostalgia to longing. When I’m driving down the gravel road, aptly named “The Dusty Road” by my brother and I when were children, I’m about to see family that I haven’t seen in a long while. I’m flooded with childhood memories of visiting several times a year– swimming in the pool and lake, swinging on the yellow wood swing my uncle made for us, and staying up late watching a wide range of movies with my grandmother (Omi), often ones I probably shouldn’t have been watching (let’s just say I had no idea what Pretty Woman was really about the first time I saw it, and to this day I can’t enter the ocean past my thighs thanks to Jaws). Finally, I’m saddened by the fact that my Omi will not be there to great me with a warm embrace like she did for so many years, because she died of Leukemia when I was in eighth grade.
A place is defined by “the lived experiences of people” (Hubbard 41) and my Papa’s house is not characterized by the six acres of gardens, the pasture where their horse, Thunder, spends his lazy days under the Oak trees or the way the lake feels when you jump off the dock on a summer day. It’s characterized by the memories we’ve made, my parents, brother and myself, my mom’s two brothers, and their families coming together. About 51 weeks of the year we’re split up among Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Texas so for one week a year, normally around the Forth of July, we congregate at the special house in Iowa for days in the sun and nights filled with wine and laughter around the pool, sitting under the arbor with its trumpet vines hanging overhead.
When I tell friends how excited I am for my Iowa adventure, they often question my sanity and assume I’m going to spend a week staring at a cornfield. I don’t exaggerate when I say that my Papa’s house is absolutely gorgeous. Before my Omi passed away, she was featured in several-page spread in an issue of Country Gardens because the house and the land surrounding it have truly become breathtaking. My mom often refers to the house as “a little resort” and she’s completely correct. The six acres are surrounded by not only the gardens but also by lush forests; so when lounging by the pool I can’t help but feel a sense of peace, calm and utter relaxation. Wandering down the hill in the backyard that leads to the small community lake, I often stop in my tracks to simply enjoy what is around. Jane Austen once said, “to sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” After a day outdoors, no word could describe how I feel better than refreshed. After everyone showers and cleans up for dinner, we enjoy the outdoors once again and dine al fresco if the weather permits. For all of these reasons, I believe the landscape, or “specific arrangement or pattern of ‘things on the land’” has definitely played a part in making this the most important place in my life (Mitchell 49).
When I look at pictures of the house when the first bought it in the ‘80s, I picture my Omi and Papa making their way up the dusty road and down the curvy grey paved driveway to see a space. They see a nice house, but it means nothing to them yet. They might imagine moving their two boys and little girl there; they might picture them playing in the front yard, which lacked the greenery and splendor it now possesses, but until they began to make memories and create a lived-in world around them, it was merely a space. Now, after Christmases and Forth of Julys spent sledding down the hill towards the lake or doing cannonballs into the pool, I can’t imagine my life without this place in it and I will forever be thankful that my Papa was able to create such a wonderful place for his family.
My late grandmother said in the interview with Country Gardens that she loves being outside, even in the dead of winter. “When I walk down and look at this flower garden, and all the pretty colors in it, it gives me great joy,” she said. Although my heart aches when I look at the article and think of how much more time I would have loved with her, I have to smile because although she is gone, the gardens still exist and the people who love her can exist in them. As I make my way down past the conifers and hostas, around the perennial bed and past the small garden house, I feel like she is with me. Gazing at the lush ferns, into the beds of roses and daylilies, I remember summer days as a child when I would happily stand by my Omi’s side like a surgeon’s assistant. I would hand her the spade like a scalpel and the trowel when she needed it.
Although my Omi is no longer there, the memories and the sense of place is as strong as ever between my parents, brother, uncles, aunts, cousins and Papa. I dunk my cousin Jack in the pool, talk about post-college adventures with my Uncle Paul over a glass of white wine and listen to my Papa ask me questions about the boys in my life and all I can do is smile, because I am at home.