Friday, October 1, 2010

Em Cashman Outside Place

I sit with my toes in the sand, staring out on Lake Michigan at sunset. The water is so calm, the sun looks hazy as it lowers itself into the mirror-like water. I love this stretch of beach. I’ve spent every summer in Door County, Wisconsin since I was two years old. Our cabin sits on the waterfront. On either side there are other cabins which are rented out to other families for days or weeks at a time.

I’ve spent countless days on this very beach… Numerous sunburns, sailboat rides and sandcastles. I know by heart the noise the lighthouse makes on foggy nights to warn boats of hidden dangers. I remember the night me and my brothers made our very own bonfire pit. We searched all day for the biggest rocks we could find and used them to make a circular fire pit. And I remember how proud we were of ourselves and how proud our dad was of us. I know where we buried our childhood pet, Joker, seven summers ago. My brothers and I constructed a cross out of branches and tied it together with birch tree bark. I know where mine and my brothers names are crudely carved into the wood bench next to our cabin and I remember vividly the night we did it. Times were tough, my dad had lost his job and my parents told us that they might have to sell the cabin. Me and my brothers were worried this could be our last summer at the lake so we made a pact to leave our mark forever. We waited until our parents went to bed, grabbed our flashlights and ran barefoot to the bench. We used my older brothers pocket knife he got from Boy Scout camp and each carved our names into the bench along with the date – 1997. 13 years later and that cabin is still ours… and our names are still on that bench.

To me, this is not a space, but a place. Sure, it’s a long stretch of beach lined with cabins, but this particular section of beach is my place. Place has no scale, but is created and maintained through people’s emotional attachment (Hubbard 42). There is definitely years of emotion invested in this beach. To have a sense of place, it is necessary to have a deep-rooted bond between people and place (43). I feel the bond with this place, not only because of my physical markings such as a pet grave and carved initials, but because I know this place intimately. I know how that it takes exactly 14 steps to reach the bonfire pit. I know that your feet will finally hit water another 22 large steps beyond that. I know that the first sandbar exists just beyond where the water hits my chest. This beach is without a doubt and indication of stability and security (43). I feel more safe here then I do at a grandparents house or in a familiar classroom. This is my home for 3 months out of every year. And even though I am not inside a building per say, this beach has become as much home to me as any house could ever be.

This particular location is a complex one, though. Sure, for me it is a place. I’ve spent the last 19 summers here and made deep emotional connections. But for others this is merely a space. They stay at cabins for a couple days, maybe a week or two and then leave and continue on with their lives. Children run up and down the beach with kites and spend seven days building sand castles and eating sandwiches on blankets. But to them this is just a space they are staying for a week or so. Space is related to freedom and mobility, and for these families a week on the beach is very freeing for them (43). In the Hubbard essay, it is argued that a location cannot be both a place and a space (43). I agree that it cannot be both for the SAME person. But a location can be a place for one person, and a space for another. In the essay, Hubbard says that a certain urban structure can be a space for most people, but it is a place for a migrant who views this location as their home (45). This comparison applies as well to my stretch of beach. But this location doesn’t belong to me, It doesn’t belong to anyone. Yes, I may own the cabin but the beach belongs to everyone so how can it be a place to me? I sit and wonder how long does it take for a space to become a place? How many summers did I come here until I made a deep connection with this beach? So deep that I felt so much stability and safety, even when completey alone in the darkness of nature. I don’t think it happens all at once. It’s a slow progression and takes time and dedication, much like forming a relationship with a person. It took lots of laughter, tears, sadness and happiness to reach this point. Of course when I was only a small child I didn’t even realize the connection I was forming with this place. But after years of dedication, this beach started to bear our mark. Our little touches of tree branch crosses, hand made fire pits and carved names made it more like a home then a stretch of land. And maybe it’s just me being prideful, but I think the beach in front of my cabin is prettier then everyone elses.

I don’t know what will happen to this cabin now. Me and my brothers are grown and the allure of a summer without cable, facebook, or working cell phones has (sadly) lost its appeal. Maybe my parents will retire here and this beach will always be our place. And maybe not. Nonetheless, I hope that the next family can have the same connection with this beach that we have had and that it becomes more than a space for them as well.

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