Spirit of Place

For a while now, I have been taking very long walks on Sunday mornings. It’s when I can have a few hours to myself, a precious commodity. The weather has been perfect, and it has been a treasure to get lost in the autumnal changes. Recently, I have been getting to know some new-to-me trails. As someone who walks the same trails over and over (and appreciates it!), learning a new path is a treat. These days it might even be considered exciting. This past Sunday, it was cold and gray for the first time and leaves were falling from the trees like rain. There was a different feel to the mountain on this morning–quieter, more stoic. It’s that winter feeling.

I saw no one on the trail now that the leaf peepers have vanished with the leaves and nice weather. Walking in a new place is a different experience, as opposed to your well-traveled walks. Your attention is required, and your mind doesn’t wander as much. I felt very aware. So, when I was walking through a hollow between two rocky ridges and saw a flash ahead on the rocks, I wondered if it was an animal. I kept my gaze locked on the spot until I tripped on a root and slammed on the ground. It felt like a trick! It really took the wind out of me, and I slowly got up and regained my pace. I felt achy and leaned on my stick, and I suddenly had the strange sensation that I was not alone. That I was being watched. I also felt this in this very spot the week before, but I didn’t think much of it then. I figured it was just my heightened awareness.

It is entirely possible that some creature was watching me, whether it was an owl, raccoon, bobcat or coyote. But I suddenly had another thought as I limped on the trail after that strange feeling: what if it was the land itself? I am fascinated by the idea of spirit of place. What are those places that speak to you? Maybe it’s a welcoming feeling, and maybe it’s a threatening feeling. It’s not quite sense of place, which I think has more to do with how humans feel about land. In my (not very scholarly) interpretation, I feel that spirit of place has more to do with how the land feels about you.

I thought it fitting to write about spirit of place before this weekend, which is full of portent. Not only is it Halloween and a full moon on Saturday, but it is also Samhain, the Day of the Dead, and, most chilling, the upcoming election. The midway point between the vernal equinox and the winter solstice. When the veil is parted and the liminal space between the physical and spiritual thin, and we welcome the darkness of winter after the bounty of harvest.

Notes:

There is very little out there on spirit of place, but here are a few links: Spirit of Place on Wikipedia, Genius Loci, Spirit of Place on Celtic Earth Spirit. There’s much more on sense of place, which I would like to read more about as well. If you have any recommendations, let me know?

Early voting in Ulster County is here! I voted yesterday in Kingston, and it only took about a half hour. So thankful for all the people working to make it run smoothly. Everyone was respectful. I felt so light on the way out!

  1. I voted yesterday. Surprisingly short line after days and days of it snaking down the block and people standing for hours – here in little Woodstock! I find that there are some places that speak to me and that I think of over and over again.

  2. I found this post about the spirit of place very interesting. Once we were walking in a new-to-us woods with a poorly marked trail when I started feeling a sense of danger, even before we came across a bear paw print in the mud by a stream. We left as quickly as we could, feeling very unsettled. Now I am wondering if perhaps it was the land itself that wasn’t welcoming us. We walk in many other woods and have never felt that before. I found the article on the Celtic Earth Spirit website intersting, too. Thank you for all the food for thought.

    1. Thanks for having an open mind, Barbara, and for sharing your story–I definitely think we are more sensitive than we think. Maybe it was a bear! But maybe it was the particular spot you were in.

      Did you read that recent news story in which a new salivary gland was found in the human body? Right behind our nose, I believe it was. So, when I read stories like that, I just wonder how much we really know!

    2. Yes, I did read about the newly discovered salivary gland. It illustrates just how little we do know! A hundred years from now I wonder what people will think of our relative ignorance, even as we chuckle about the notions held by some of our ancestors. And perhaps the ancient cultures like the Celts knew far more than we give them credit for. I am often aware of the energy of trees, even if I don’t always understand it.

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