Our sense of place
TOWNER, N.D. -- As I write this column, we're a day or two ahead of our Independence Day celebrations on the Fourth of July. My friends in Canada just finished their Canada Day activities. These are the high points of summer for a lot of folks in...
TOWNER, N.D. -- As I write this column, we're a day or two ahead of our Independence Day celebrations on the Fourth of July. My friends in Canada just finished their Canada Day activities. These are the high points of summer for a lot of folks in the little towns where this column is read.
Last week, I was at the induction ceremony for the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora, N.D., to give the keynote address as the group welcomed its latest round of inductees.
One of the points I made in that speech dealt with our "sense of place." I talked mostly of our sense of place here in North Dakota, but I'm sure other places and locales have that same sense.
"Sense of place" may sound like some funky, New Age term, but us not-so-funky, old age kinds can understand what it is. Most of us who live in places that have it, though, often are too busy just doing what we do to realize we're helping create that sense. It usually takes someone from the outside to tell us how strong and identifiable our sense of place is.
A story to tell
Sense of place is what makes your spot in the world unique and different from any other place on the globe, different from any other gathering of people with the same strip malls and big box stores and a mobile work force that moves from one job to another, one house or apartment to another, one city to another.
A sense of place cannot be created overnight or recreated by an ad agency. You can't make it up, or fake it or simulate it and sell tickets to it like an amusement park. Our "sense of place" is built over generations of time by people such as the cowboys, cowgirls, ranchers and others we've inducted into our state's Cowboy Hall of Fame.
It's built in every community when they take the initiative to put together that summer gathering of friends and neighbors. In my hometown, we're having an all-school reunion for a school that's been graduating students for 100 years. We're celebrating 50 continuous years of hosting a Fourth of July rodeo in the big arena that local ranchers built on the north edge of town.
Those seemingly little things build up our sense of place. When we embrace our history, tell our stories, keep up our old buildings, maintain our institutions and events and recognize the heroes, the characters and even the crazy old codgers in our midst, we make our place different than those faceless places with the same stores that sell the same stuff, host the same big concerts and serve the same happy meals.
Folks who live where there's a sense of place wake up every morning feeling pretty well rooted. We step out of bed and head out the door to do the chores on the same ranches and farms that our ancestors homesteaded, bought or built generations before us.
Granted, everyone can't stay on the home place or take over the family business. But a few of us need to so our classmates who've moved on and pursued careers elsewhere have something to come home to when it's time for the school reunion.
And if you come across those people who helped organize the school reunion, put on the rodeo, lined up the parade entries, judged the seedless watermelon seed spitting contest or just stood on the street and welcomed our former residents back home, tell them thanks.
It's because of them that we have our sense of place, and have not slipped into geographic anonymity.