I subscribe to a magazine (paper) called Colorado Central Magazine. It’s published in the small city of Salida which is just over Poncha Pass from me, about 1 1/2 hours north. It has more text than photos and is printed on news print. Most of the writers are baby boomers and they are thoughtful, well-educated people. It’s supported by local advertising and subscription and focuses on history, current events, opinion of the geographically large region it covers — including the San Luis Valley.
When I began the year I had rather impetuously begun a (hopeless) financial austerity program because everything gets more expensive and my house payment went up. Good that property values increased here in the back of beyond, bad that means higher property taxes for me. I cancelled my subscription, but they kept sending issues every month and I realized if it really DID stop coming, I’d miss it!
The most recent issue has an article titled, “If you don’t know where you are,” (Wendell) Berry wrote, “You don’t know who you are.”
Yeah. That’s the title. The article is written by a guy named Peter Anderson, a retired teacher, who lives in Crestone — a mountain town in the Sangre de Cristos known mostly for having an ashram, being “spiritual,” and somewhat arty-farty. It’s locus of a nude hot spring — Valley View — where you can watch, on a summer evening, Colorado’s ONLY fireflies and you can witness the migration of Mexican bats.
The article talks about what it means to be a “placed person,” that’s someone who IS where they ARE. I found that a captivating idea.
The writer explains that Wallace Stegner (about whom the article was written, in spite of the title) regarded being a “placed person” as understanding, “…by way of the senses, the memory and one’s history” where you are. The author explains that “Knowledge of a place as Stegner understood it, comes from ‘working in all its weathers’ and ‘loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons’. This kind of knowing, Stegner said, requires, ‘Human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry’.” The author comments further that, “This kind of noticing takes time and it takes a tendered and patient disposition, which is why a settled life in one location does not necessarily result in a placed person.”
I haven’t read Wallace Stegner. I’m sure something he wrote passed through my world at some point and didn’t grab me. I’ve learned that he’s categorized with other “western writers” including Larry McMurtry, whose work I love, and Edward Abbey, whose work I love more. Looking at some of his work on Amazon through the miracle of “Look inside!!!” I see why I might just have let Stegner go.
As my mind wandered through this meandering article (leading to this meandering blog post) I thought, “Yeah, but dude. Your title quotes Wendell Berry, not Wallace Stegner. I’m so confused.” I shrugged and let it go. I’d been given something to think about and in these times that’s something to be grateful for.
I thought about that quotation all day yesterday, thinking of writing this, about how in my life it’s been true. I WANT to know where I am because the best thing that happened in my life was learning to BE in the Southern California chaparral. The lesson I got there was really and truly, “Be here now.” Every after-school jaunt onto those narrow dirt trails was a journey from the relentless, repetitive idiocy of competitive human life and struggle to the real deal of snakes emerging from holes in the earth at dusk and the barn owls coming out to hunt them.
Featured photo: From one of the volumes of The Examined Life sometime in the early 2000s, written in gold ink. 🙂