Artwork by Cathy McClelland

To belong to a place is to be embedded in it. Its struggles are your contentions, its harvests your wealth, its needs your purpose. Your place’s history is the story of your own becoming. If the cloud gods move in, your own mood is grey. If the year suffers with drought, you feel the desperation of thirst in your own skin. There is no separation from the place where we live, except for the one made by our own forgetting.

It’s said that after arriving in a new place, we will have replaced the entirety of the water in our bodies with that of the local watershed in just a few days. Though these adaptations happen at a biological level, we are vastly unconscious of the implications a place has on our psyche. Just as humans carry an energetic signature, so too do geographies. However, like fish swimming in water, we are rarely aware of what energy a place holds until we leave it, or return to it after time away.

I remember a number of years ago travelling from the city where I’d been living for fifteen years to spend time with friends in the country. It was a very heart-opening visit, which must have contributed to my porousness upon returning, because I distinctly remember getting onto a streetcar and feeling a very familiar, yet subtle, quality of resignation enter my body. That was a revelation for me, because I’d always just assumed that quality was my own—and in this tiny interstitial moment of awareness, I saw that it belonged to this place. When I finally moved away, some years later, I never experienced that feeling again.

You might ask, “How do you know that quality of resignation wasn’t a cultural energy rather than a geographical one?” And it certainly could have been. But when we look through the lens of reciprocity between culture and place, between body and earth, then the distinction falls away.

If we are made of the same stuff as our place, then we are expressions of that place, but the reverse is also true. What we bring, or don’t bring, to the tending of a place is also part of how that place is shaped. If you’ve ever tended a garden, you know exactly what I mean. When you sit with a patch of land long enough, listening to its needs and learning from its habits, you can eventually grow something very beautiful there. Conversely, if you neglect it in your thoughts, your little garden patch may become arid and fallow.

Many of us are missing from our place of origin, and grieving well might look like returning to it physically or psychically so that we can consciously understand how it has shaped us. But on the other hand, we must re-embed ourselves, tending to the place where we have arrived.

Simply moving somewhere isn’t enough to make a place home. Similarly, it isn’t enough to work at finding vocation and creating community. We must also become skillful with the land upon which we live, creating through the reciprocity of listening and responding, a holy grove in which to dwell.

Excerpt from “Belonging” by Toko-pa Turner