Friday, September 3, 2010

which do you prefer?

you know when you're at some meeting for the first time, and the person in charge asks everyone to share their name, where they live, what they do, and their social security number (well maybe that's just me)? well, usually these "get-to-know-you" games often end with sharing an interesting fact about yourself. an example would be to share whether you like the mountains or the ocean better. if you're like me you choose mountains, but wish you could choose mountains at the ocean so you could go cliff diving, but that's neither here nor there.

what they will never ask is whether or not you like the mountains, the beach, or the landlocked plains of the rest of the country better. i mean who's really going to say, "ooh ooh, me, i'm for the plains. they're so lovely and flat."

well, having moved to the plains of the mississippi delta (which is in fact not near the gulf of mexico, but rather in the northwestern part of the state between the mississippi and yazoo rivers) i'm starting to rethink my answer. i might just be that guy who will jump up and down voting for the plains the next time i'm in a small group where the leader asks the mountains/beach question.

why, you ask? isn't this

much more appealing than this?

don't tempt me with your colorful autumn leaves and your lush and wooded trails. i said i was starting to rethink my answer.

one of the more revealing things about the mountains/beach/plains question is that it points out our connection to the land, whatever that land may be. humans have been tied to the land for...well forever. as soon as there were enough of us around to start getting territorial about things, we started claiming land, thinking the more land we had somehow made us better than those with less, and trying desperately hold on to what land we had in order to make a living.

our relationship to the land is easy to forget when we live in cities with enough pavement to cause a creek to flood a city (i'm looking at you atlanta), but when this is what you see out the front and back of your house, it's easy to remember.

i had the pleasure of spending an afternoon earlier this week with a lawyer from the small town where i live. he told me about what life was like in this place when he was growing up. he even recalled that he never saw his grandfather without three things, his pocketwatch, his wallet, and his pistol. his grandfather was a farmer at the peak of this place's existence. it's safe to say just about everyone who lived here depended on the land they worked for their well-being.

advancements in technology have taken that percentage down a bit, but still the overwhelming majority of the economy here in the mississippi delata is farming. corn, soybeans, rice, cotton. they're all kings here. and they will be as long as the soil stays fertile and people keep tilling it.

but more than the history of farming in this are, this lawyer told me to listen for something. he said to listen to how people describe where they live. "ask them where they live and they'll say, 'i have a place across 49 or over the bayou,'" he said.

there's a sense of belonging when you say you have a "place" somewhere. i know when i've lived in other places, i've always just said, "i live at/in/behind." there's no sense of belonging when all you can say is that you live somewhere. everybody lives somewhere. others might say "i stay at..." which is much more transient than having a place, but much more specific than living somewhere.

i'm not sure if this is a local thing relevant only to folks in the delta, but i'm inclined to think it's true for anyone who lives in a place so tied to the land. i mean, when you look around and see field upon field upon river upon field, it comes as no surprise that people want to know where there place in the world is. if all you see is the natural world, it's easy to wonder where you belong and to stake your claim.

i guess the same can be said while you're standing on a mountain top or wading in the ocean, but for most of us those moments are occasional and sometimes interrupted by a plane advertising free parasailing or a crotchety old man complaining about the wind after he drove up the other side of the mountain for a view from the visitors' center.

for now, we have a place here.

trail photo by timmy, all others by biz and boone


  1. youre tempting me with that Scotland pic in the top right

  2. well, sir. i consider that mission accomplished.