After his five month visit to Panama, Darryl came to my house bearing gifts from Central America. To me he presented a beaded, white bracelet containing orange circles with deep blue centers—symbols of sacred places.
"The symbols are representative of sacred places to the Kuni Indians in Panama’s San Blas Islands. They might be places of origin or mysticism. Origin would include the birthplace of all frogs or hawks. Mystic places are holy places which cannot be found, let alone entered by ordinary people."
My bracelet has eleven sacred places. What are my own places of origin or mysticism? My eleven symbols might represent physical places with describable landscapes or mental places with emotional or spiritual meaning. Perhaps I could assign an address to my places, define a "here" or a "there" for my bracelet symbols. I might choose rural Georgia, my birthplace, for my place of origin. Perhaps I would locate my place of mysticism in the stars, the heavens, a mountaintop, a sunrise—or perhaps just a moment or a feeling of placefulness. My own experiences define how I understand, name, and relate to physical and mental places.
Which is why this issue of you are here, the journal of creative geography, exists. Because place matters and each person defines his or her sacred bracelet in a different way. So, too, do the contributors of this journal—the writers, artists, and academics who have taken time to express what place can mean.
In her cover photograph, Carolyn Groessl captures an expression of "I am HERE!" in the young boy. Perhaps the placefulness of the photograph is evoked by the short distance between the lens of the camera and the boy’s face. Or instead the attitude behind the boy’s expression could be interpreted to mean "I am exactly here at this moment." In addition, longer, more complex moments of place come through in pieces such as "Parable" by Nobel prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska.
Our relationship to our bracelet places can change. Tucson, Arizona, is my transient home, the place where I have a fleeting two years to work my mind, to explore the desert, to cultivate relationships with my fellow students. But suppose I choose to stay in Tucson, to raise a family and a garden, the path Barbara Kingsolver discusses with Kimi Eisele in "The Where and Why of Literature." Suppose I "dig in" and make this "here" a place altogether different from what it is now.
What about places we would not include in our sacred bracelet? Jeff Stein takes us through the pain of a tortured place and a divided "here" in his "Pieces of Kenya—letters home." Ken Lamberton uses words to explore the world beyond his utterly defined space—prison.
So what are we humans doing in places? What are we doing to places? Jeri McAndrews chooses to combine her love of dance and movement with her love of big, natural places. She celebrates the rhythms of wind and the movement of mountains. Desiree Rios, on the other hand, captures human prints on the landscape. Five minutes ago or fifty years ago, humans imposed their needs and wants on landscapes throughout the American West and in Mexico. Stacey Halper, in Empty Spaces, offers a similar absence of humans yet emphasizes how humans arrange place. She does this on the "inside" however, taking us into the serene interiors of someone’s very deliberate space. In the process of choosing what to include in image and what to exclude, these artists present their own interpretations of place.
We have much to do with how our places are understood by others: we name them. Joel Lipman gives us Contra Diction, Sonny & LaVonne’s, and marco beach. Duane Griffin tells us where we can find hell in the good ole US of A—or at least where our forebears have articulated hell to be.
Often times we use a map to describe location. Sandy Huss invites us over and gives a map to her house—so that we know where to go when we’ve stumbled across the church of the lightbulb cross or the tatoo parlor. She has given us markers so that we may come from anywhere and still arrive to a very specific "here."
But perhaps we disagree with the description of place that is given to us. What if the trail map we hold in our hands simply lies about the size of the stream we have to cross? Roger Sheffer offers us a journey through the interpretations and mental maps of hills and mountains, of "halfway there," "almost there," and "nowhere" in his essay on the mental geography of Appalachian Trail hikers. Each hiker has his or her own idea of defining, describing, and drawing the challenges of place on the AT.
Finally, Elaine Sexton offers us a glimpse at what her place bracelet might symbolize. In "The World Book" she reflects on the meaning of places she has experienced with her family in her childhood and in her adulthood.
With this Fall 1999 issue, you are here continues its quest to explore concepts of place. Because not everyone’s sacred bracelet is the same.
© 2009 you are here and the department of geography and regional development at the university of arizona