sense of place

For the last several years I have researched the transformative impacts of First Peoples expressions of significance of place on white supporters. My research loosely falls under many categories including action-research and participant-observation. What it enabled me to do was to live amongst a different community and immerse myself in learning about their lived experiences and struggles—as expressed through their actions. The notion of sense of place is something I was first exposed to by a friend over 10 years ago who was studying in a Social Ecology program, and something I have come to reflect on many times. Having recently moved back to Canada, where I undertook some of this research a couple years ago though in a different province, sense of place has occupied my thoughts a number of times.

Prior to traveling/living overseas, most of my life was lived in 2 locations: one with a forest at the end of the street I lived in, the other (I lived in many places) adjacent to the ocean and a forested escarpment. I developed a sense of place at both locations, though increasingly came to appreciate both oceans and mountains—and being able to surf all year round. A winter in the coast mountains of BC further developed my affinity for mountains. On traveling to Canada for a what was planned to be a short research stint, I lived adjacent to the Niagara escarpment and Lake Ontario. Many who heard of where I was living provided derogatory comments about the area, though it took some time for me to determine why. I immersed myself in the history of the area and its environment developing a deep sense of place. I extended my stay twice, ending up staying there for close to 2 years. I found it difficult to leave, and still ponder returning—despite it being far removed from the ocean back (and surfable winters) in Australia. It was something I also struggled with on returning to Australia—as most people who have traveled for extending periods will be able to relate to when returning ‘home’.

For a coming book chapter, I have again delved into my research on the history of this region in Ontario and find myself ‘missing’ the area. I have a few good friends there whom I do miss and would like to be able to see often. My level of attachment to this place is something I do not think I expected, nor how it has lingered. I was a little surprised by my recent emergence of these feelings, the intensity of this sense of place. What I am drawing from this is that if I immerse myself in learning about where in Canada I am now—more than the superficial constructions of work-consumer life, I will develop a similar sense of place. It is something I will most certainly reflect on more for some time. My reflections on attachments to ‘home’ in Australia are often mixed with a desire to return and an awareness of reasons why I left. These do not exist for my Ontario sojourn. Perhaps this is why I feel attached as such, lacking any substantive negative experiences.

I reflect on this as very positive. I am lucky to have had such experiences. I do hope to have many more…

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