Musings and Amusings

What is a map if not ultimately a tool to help us in our discovery of ‘Place’?

Place can be as meaningless as a red X proclaiming, “You are Here” or as monumental as your internal compass at some point in your life’s journey whispering, “You belong Here.”

Occasionally Place can be conflicting heartstrings, as when you return to your childhood hometown, wanting to find what existed long ago exactly the way your memory locked it in.

Stranger or Friend

Book Cover for Stranger or Friend

Silvia Villalobos, an author and Romanian transplant to Los Angeles, recently published her first novel, Stranger or Friend in which Los Angeles lawyer, Zoe Sinclair, returns to her hometown only to find her best friend murdered and her mother succumbing to age-related illnesses and refusing medical care.

As Zoe investigates her friend’s murder, she finds once-friendly townspeople reluctant to share what they know. Zoe is forced to confront more challenging circumstances than she anticipated as she realizes how much the town she once knew has changed.

Silvia creates believable characters and relationships, and brings her story to a satisfactory conclusion (something I find missing in many novels). I recommend her novel for the storyline as well as the many themes Silvia incorporated. If anything, I hope she delves deeper into a few of her themes in her planned Zoe sequel, especially the conflicts that come as towns become more demographically diverse, forcing changing workforces and cultural adjustments.

What I enjoyed as much as the novel itself was the amount of thematic background Silvia provided during April’s A to Z Challenge. One theme that resonated with me is our human need to find our sense of place.

 In Silvia’s words, “People suffer through bad times – hurricanes, fires – and return to rebuild, as they feel they belong to the place as much as the place belongs to them.”

 Silvia’s novel takes place in Wyoming, and she specifically references the northwest corner of the state where Yellowstone National Park and the majestic Teton Mountain Range are the state’s crowning beauties.

from Google Images

Yellowstone’s Beehive Geyser from Google Images

from Google Images

Wyoming’s Teton Range from Google Images

While I have traveled to those tourist-heavy natural wonders, I know a different Wyoming – that of the central and eastern plains where families have passed down homestead ranches and where mineral excavation and oil/gas drilling are the lifeblood of the economy.

from Google Images

Wyoming Plains from Google Images

A Wyoming where the wind blows so steadily no matter the season; the snow blusters so forcefully; and the sun blisters so intensely, you’ve got to develop a thick crust and a ‘git ‘er done’ attitude to survive, let alone thrive. Silva rightfully uses weather as a driving theme in her novel, and highlights the effect it has on the sociability and personality of Wyoming’s residents.

Stegner photo

Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner Back Cover

While I was reading Silvia’s novel, I was finishing up Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner. Much to my surprise and delight, two of the final four stories, “The Wolfer” and “Carrion Spring” take place in Wyoming. Stegner wrote about the spring of 1907 after four months of brutal forty degree below zero cold snaps with intermittent wild, warming Chinook winds and continuous blizzard whiteouts and fog. Most of the cattle did not survive; the wolves were running rampant to feast on the carnage; and the wolfer and his vicious hound dog eventually succumbed in gruesome scenes when their trapping plan went awry.

Coincidentally, when I reread Silvia’s A to Z posts, I realized she quoted Wallace Stegner in her ‘Place’ post, “The knowledge of place that comes from working in it, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings and evenings…”

Much as I like to think of myself as a Pioneer Woman, I haven’t worked the land in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico or Arizona nor suffered most of their catastrophes, but I love the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Southwest Desert. Every fiber in me knows this is where I belong … my sense of place.  Much of my heart resides with my Michigan family but Colorado is my rightful home.

Thanks to Silvia Villalobos and Wallace Stegner for celebrating ‘Place’.

I’m curious about my readers.

  •  Are you transplants who have found your ‘place’?
  • Lifelong residents of your birthplace?
  • Feel like a foreigner when revisiting your birthplace?
  • Multi-placers who split you time living in more than one place? If so, is one ‘home’?
  • Still seeking? How? Where?

I am also interested to hear about authors you like who write about ‘YOUR place’ in a way that holds meaning for you. (Prompt?)

Occasionally I scroll through Andrea Reads America where Andrea provides author quotes linking the author to their state . She reads and reviews several books taking place in a state then she ‘moves on’ to another state. Fascinating!



Comments on: "Maps and A Sense of Place" (45)

  1. I moved to So. FL over 45 years ago because I had always loved the area during visits. For 35 years I still believed it was MY PLACE, but it seems I should have moved again 10 years ago… I am now starting to dislike it more every year. I think it’s because at my age now I can no longer enjoy here what I used to and it has become far too crowded, the old Florida is gone forever and that’s sad – it’s been paved over and built on.

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve become dissatisfied with your ‘place’ and I understand exactly what you mean about having to give up pursuits and being ‘invaded’ by population growth and development.

      There are many beloved vacation spots I will never go back to because I know they have changed too much from the places I knew and loved.

      I could say a lot about the dispearance of rural and small town America, but those who know it and love it already know what I’d say and the rest just want bigger, bigger, more …

  2. I really enjoyed this post Sammy. I also followed Silvia during the A-to-Z challenge. It was a last minute connection but I’m very glad we made it. I think the sense of place grounds us, even if we aren’t in that place. I bounced around a bit after leaving Pittsburgh, eventually settling in Connecticut. I’ve written that I am still a resident of Pittsburgh although I’ve been in CT for well over 30 years.

    • Thank you, Dan. If you’ve written about Pittsburgh being your place and I missed it (or forgot I read it), a link, please?

      • I was going to include it, but I never want to seem like I’m using you to promote me. Since you asked – – and thanks for asking Sammy!

      • Thanks, Dan. I believe we’ve moved beyond suspecting each other of self-promotion!

        I want to be directed (by map or otherwise, but please no long-since-burned-down barns) to any relevant writing. My shortterm memory is abysmal, so even if I already read it I might not remember, and your posting archives go back longer than I’ve been reading.

  3. Wow! Beautifully written Sammy D thank you! Wyoming – it looks beautiful and the word of it sounds like coming home … like a homing pigeon. I’m still to read Silvia’s book, on my Kindle. I loved her sense of weather inter alia as theme in the A-Z.

    I suppose ‘home’ is where the heart is. I was born at the sea though now living on the highveld in South Africa. I’ve moved around a fair bit in my life, though have been here for the last 35 years or so. I know that I would like to be at the sea in my last years where I can still walk on the beach and swim in the sea and see the wildness of it and the wildlife in it. I don’t know if I’m different when we go to our holiday home down at the sea (not my birthplace) but I have a sense of belonging there more than here in this large city.

    • Thank you, Susan – i do love beaches, ocean waves, lakes and rivers. In a future life, one of those will be my ‘place’! Water is an element that can soothe or stir in equal force.

      I enjoyed your take on Wyoming – homing pigeons certainly fit into the lore of the West as they were part of the early communications along with the Pony Express.

      You compelled me to research the etymology of the name Wyoming – it comes from an Algonquin Indian sublanguage called Munsee. The word ‘wamenk’ means ‘at the big river flat’. I was surprised to hear it was Algonquin because that’s an east coast tribe. I read on to discover the word was transplanted west from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.

      Currently the endangered Munsee language is spoken only the Mordviantown Reserve in Ontario, Canada by 7-8 residents, the youngest being 66. There are effirts to teach the language to younger residents.

      (Can you guess I should have been a linguist?)

      • That’s all so interesting! I also like to track etymologies, and get so sidetracked as I do in maps as well. ‘Wamenk’ sounds flat, as a word …

        I hope those younger ones do not lose the language! Perhaps the 66 year old and elders can pass it on …

      • Sidetracked ! Daily 😀

  4. The thing to know about the Great Plains is that it is inhabited by the people who have stayed. Sure, there are the new arrivals who move to theboom towns created by the tourism and oil industry, but aside from that much of rural Wyoming, Montana, South and North Dakota has gradually depopulated over the last half century.

    It changes people’s perception of themselves. The people who stay pull tighter together and there is a tension in every growing family, who will stay and who will go.

    • You are so right, Greg. Our rural way of life across many states is changing either because urban sprawl swallows towns whole or in-migration results in the inevitable discomfort between ‘natives’ and newbies. Younger generations of longtime rural families see the futility of preserving family businesses and homesteads.

      I mourn the loss of rural America. I know change is inevitable but we seem to bend over backwards to preserve every endangered species, culture, marginalized being, and ignore that a mist vital part of who we’ve been from our country’s inception will soon be lost forever.

  5. I grew up in Saskatchewan but Alberta has been home for Dave and I for almost 35 years. Your post definitely makes me defect on how we represent our ‘place’ to tourists va those who live here.

    • One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Neil Young, grew up on the plains in Canada and his Prairie Wind album is my alltime favorite. He sings so lovingly about his father, his childhood and the plains.

      When he croons ‘bury me out on the prairie where the buffalo used to roam; bury me out on the prairie and then I won’t be far from home’ it makes me tear up with live for our land.

  6. I grew up in North Dakota but have long since moved away. It’s always interesting to go back there, but we rarely do anymore. Other than one sibling of my husband’s, neither of us has family left there. But our hometowns are never quite how we remembered them. That change is both exciting and disquieting at the same time.

    Stranger or Friend sounds like a great read.

    • Carrie, North Dakota is one of a few states I haven’t yet visited but I will some day! Hardy people there as well.

      Hometown visits evoke emotions – happy and sad – for most of us, I imagine.

      • Hardy for sure. Especially in those North Dakota winters. I grew up in the eastern part, but it’s the western part with the Badlands that’s so gorgeous.

      • None of the plains region smacks one in the face with a Beauty sign, and I’m sure many non-residents pass through thinking the whole area could be called ‘bad’.

        It takes moments of quietude, observation and understanding to see the subtle colors enhanced by sunIight, changed by cloud cover, and mingled into new hues by the winds. I can find God’s hand in a cornfield or the stubble of wind-ravaged sagebrush. It’s moments like that when I hear the voices and sounds of prarielife since its inception – time travel back to buffalo grazing, Indians and Traders co-existing and sod houses.

      • Well said. 🙂

  7. I am honored, Sammy. Thank you for writing such a beautiful post, and for the piece on Wallace Stegner, one of the big literary minds. I particularly remember a quote of his, one I try to keep in mind as I write: “In fiction we should have no other agenda but to tell the truth.”

    I visited Wyoming on two occasions, and loved the open spaces, the industrious nature of the people especially out on the farms. I remember looking around and thinking: one can really get attached to the scenic beauty of this place, to the land, and never want to go anywhere else.

    My sense of place has changed over the years to such dramatic ends, it takes me a while to recover from the shock. When I visit Romania, for example, a place that defines me, I don’t feel fully at home anymore, even if a big part of me will forever belong there. I definitely feel like a foreigner. So much so, I even forget to roll my Rs in conversation, and for the first day or so, I even sound like a foreigner. Yet, when I return to L.A., the new memories of place remain, the shock giving me a sense of vertigo. So, to alleviate that, I look at my family, my son most of all, and that returns my sense of place.

    So happy you enjoyed the book. It looks like Zoe might return to L.A. for the next Zoe Sinclair novel, but given where she comes from, Wyoming will always be a big part of her. Many thanks to your blog readers for the lovely comments.
    My best,

    • Silvia, I certainly thought about how discombobulated you must feel when moving between your past and present, but you always seem to have meshed well into your present ‘place’ , and becoming your own family plays a part in that.

      I would have loved to have met Wallace Stegner; I’m always surprised at how long ago he wrote because his work is so timeless. (Altho sadly it might not appeal to future generations). I read that his son Page is a writer; I’m going to Google hime out of curiosity.

  8. This post has triggered a lot of thought about what ‘my place’ means. I envy those who have found it and know they are in the right place … I’m still looking.

    I’m starting to believe that some people – like me – have no place. We’re seekers … always looking.

    • I did think of you, Joanne, when writing my questions at the end, only because of the way you’ve described your current neighborhood. Although I ‘ve been forced to move from n’hoods, and even towns, for various reasons, I’ve felt Colorado is home ever since I settled here.

      That said, the truth is I carry home inside me, and it will go with me in the future. Having my beloved spouse is what makes that part ok.

      A life of seeking can be satisfactory and not everyone finds or needs ‘place’, but I do hope if you are looking, you will find yours. 💖

      • Thank you for those warm wishes. I hope so too but I’ve stopped stressing about it.

        I hope I’ll get to visit Colorada someday. I’ve had it up there on a pedestal forever – thanks to John Denver and his Rocky Mountain High. Maybe that’s where my place is too 🙂

      • 💥 wouldn’t that be something !! I hope you make it here too even if just for a visit.

        One set of cousins grew up with an Air Force pilot Dad and it seemed like they moved every two years when they were kids. Most of them found ‘settling’ into career paths, marriages, and locales very difficult when they reached adulthood. Interestingly two of the siblings and my aunt recently moved in together at ages 55, 70 and 90. I’m happy they are caring for each other.

        I often wonder how I would have fared that kind of upheaval on top of my already emotionally unsettled teen years.

      • I have to agree … I doubt I would have the same wanderlust if my childhood had felt like a nomadic existence.
        It seems we crave what we didn’t have.

  9. Interesting, isn’t it, Sammy? I could not imagine myself coping with the extremes of a harsh climate. I hate the cold. And I don’t like flat open spaces. I like humps and bumps 🙂 Belonging? I guess my beaches claim me, be they here in the north east or in the Algarve. I am a little in love with Poland but it will never be home. 🙂

    • Thank you for your visits, Jo.

      From what I’ve observed you have a special spring in your step and a sparkle in your eye when you are headed to the Algarves. Now that I’ve looked up that beautiful seaside I can understand.

      I’m always fascinated by which other countries Europeans visit on Holiday.

      Yes I talk a good story about loving the Plains but I hate cold and wind, too! Way to keep me honest 😉

  10. When I was younger and I traveled, I knew right away, maybe age 6 or so, that I needed to be where trees reigned supreme. I found beauty elsewhere, but I am a woodlands person. I don’t care for the desert, not a huge fan of the plains. Anywhere hot is not my friend. I have frequented Florida for most of my life, so I am accustomed to beaches, and I love the sea. I could only live by the sea if it also meant living near the woods. I was 9 when I fell in love with Maine. I was 19 or 20 when I fell in love with Seattle.
    I think I’m in the right region. I’d prefer a progressive state. I may one day get there, not opposed to it.
    I love the cycles of the landscapes here, the changes each season, the routine of knowing what to expect.
    I love to travel, but this is home.

    • Thanks for commenting, Joey. I did have to give up woods to be here, but I do not miss humidity! When I travel I generally fall in love with a new place but as soon as the plane lands or we turn on our street, I’m glad to be home. Probably like that fir many.

  11. Born in San Diego, raised in San Diego, live in San Diego. Although I’ve visited lots of other states and have lived elsewhere temporarily for college and a couple of jobs (although all were in California), this has always been my “place.” When my husband and I travel, we often ask ourselves if we could live here or there but we haven’t found that perfect spot yet. On our most recent travels, southern Utah intrigued us. Who knows… maybe…

    • Janis, I often wonder who notices changes in a place more – someone who lives there while change happens around them or someone who leaves and then returns to vast changes. San Diego is a very nice place if you’re picking only one!

  12. I often feel like a bit of a foreigner in my birthplace (France) because I left when I was five. I had made London my place, but having been away for four years now, I have no doubt that on returning it will feel a bit foreign. I’ve come to think of my ‘place’ as wherever I feel at home. So my place right now is Hong Kong, and one day it will be some other country. I think part of the reason I have such a fluid sense of ‘home’ is because we moved so much when I was very young. Whether it’s moving to a new apartment, or to a new country, I make myself at home very quickly now. Although I think I’d struggle a bit more with a very cold place — months of snow would get me down at first as I hate the cold.

    • Celine, i think some adapt to early moves asyou did and some find it harder to ever feel settled. I agree that ‘home’ is really inside us because all of life is really about adapting. I’m glad you can settle in quickly. Cold had its moments, but i need them short-lived!!

      • Haha yes, like a few days, just long enough to wear those lovely, cosy big jumpers and snuggle up by a fire, and then once that’s done — back to the warmth please!

  13. Wallace Stegner is one of my favorites. Reading a bio now, “All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West”

    • That sounds like a great read, Jane. I’ve got Desert Solitaire by Abbey in my book pile waiting to be read and have a post planned for it. I could read Stegner iver and over.

      I thought of you and your posts about wyoming wind while I wrote this. And from what you write about North Dakota, that’s even tougher winters! I have really enjoyed your series about watching the migrating birds and am in envy of your ability to identify species.

  14. […] Sammy D at Bemuzin wrote a post about the human need to find our sense of place … a feeling of belonging.  It […]

  15. Oh good Lord, did you have to rub it in that our Colorado land is sold?

  16. HI Sammy – I somehow came here form Dan’s blog – and so glad I did – I enjoyed your take on maps and location (i.e. Place can be conflicting heartstrings…)
    and for us, I think I will always be displaced in some way – seems like once I left where I was raised a part of home was always there – and then we moved coast to coast and so all in all – we had to learn how to drop roots and settle…. anyhow, nice post and looking forward to following along with your blog.

    • Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts. Discovering bloggers who ‘speak to us’ is what makes us feel like community. Dan has been a great ‘connector’ 😀. I look forward to returning your visit!

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