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My place is a location inside me that has been assembled as various geographic locations throughout the world have impacted my existence. It is an amalgam of the places where I have lived for a long while or spent significant time. These experiences so shape my sense of place that I try to live fully from day to day, with the signatures of those places influencing my life in every way.

Assateague Island, off the coast of Maryland, is where I spent many days as a young person. When I was five and six years old, it was where my father took me hunting and fishing and where we searched for the remains of old ship wrecks, once finding a brass dinner bell and a brass ship's compass in the sand dunes that constitute the eastern side of the island. We also watched the wild horses romp on the western side of the island and attended the annual "pony penning" roundup during which the wild horses were swum across the channel to Chincoteague Island, our "next-door neighbor" in Virginia.

My life in Florida after the age of six also centered on water and big sky. We lived in the town of Lake Wales. All year long we were in or on the waters of lakes with names such as Lake Wales, Weohyakapka, Rosalie, Okeechobee and hanging out as teenagers at the Camp Mack Fish Camp on Lake Kissimmee. The lakes and rivers in Florida are fed by springs bubbling up from the underground Floridan aquifer through the karst system of lime rock. Many of the rivers are tea-colored or "blackwater" rivers, which derive their color from leaf tannins staining the clear waters. Others flow from springs whose volume is so great that they remain crystal clear, such as the Ichetucknee and Crystal rivers.

Currently, I live on the Santa Fe River just to the north of High Springs, Florida, a "really great" town. The Santa Fe flows southwest above ground and underground through the lands just north of Gainesville until its waters mingle with those of the Suwannee River and continue to the Gulf of Mexico. Because the Santa Fe's waters are fed by several major springs along its way, it sometimes is crystal clear and at other times it is tea-colored. The Santa Fe is always beautiful, with mysterious swallets swirling water back down into the aquifer and springs surging waters upward toward the surface. It provides excellent habitat for eagles, hawks, herons, limpkins, osprey, storks, swallowtails, woodpeckers, numerous other small-bird species, and water rats like my neighbors and me. Its waters abound with fish, turtles, snakes, and alligators. The shoreline features plants and trees of semi-tropical and upland forest varieties, but wild magnolia trees and crowning cypress trees are its hallmarks.

Before rediscovering my love for Florida along the Santa Fe River ten years ago, I found and lived for more than three decades in a glorious refuge of place in the countryside north of Davidson, North Carolina. I resided, worked, played, and loved in three nineteenth-century log structures that I renovated and assembled (with help!) on the land. The land there slopes sharply down to a creek. It is heavily wooded with beautiful beech trees interspersed with hickory, oaks, tulip poplars, and sourwood trees. Part of the rolling hills of the Piedmont, this land is augmented by outcroppings of large granite rocks, rivers and streams. The Town of Davidson is home to Davidson College and has the advantages of a small college town with a great coffee shop in between a marvelous bookstore and ice cream shop. Just opposite these establishments is the Town Green, where, on almost every weekend, there is some festival, concert, or fund-raiser for a worthy cause such as the Run for the Green, a marathon sponsored by the Davidson Lands Conservancy. Saturdays in Davidson feature the farmers' market, specializing in local organically produced products.

These places have been "homes" where I have nested for deep periods of time. Others places have made significant impacts on my sense of place as well, but in short sprints of time by way of foreign travel. Time spent in Japan during the 1960s forever changed how I think about a sense of aesthetic as applied to all of life. Time spent in India since the 1970s has changed how I viewed humanity and how we benefit when we perceive each other from a broader perspective. With these layers of experiences, I have grown to feel that, ultimately, "my place" resides within and that it is not an external environment. Still, I love the beauty to be found in the people and plants and critters and places that surround us, for through place can be found a gateway, a threshold, to the inner soul where our "true" place resides and grows.

Copyright © 2013 Martha Strawn. All rights reserved.


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