What does it mean to be “of a place”?


I’ve become a bit of a fan of Martin Shaw over the last year. He speaks and writes of being of a place, of courting a place, and listening to the stories that are held in the landscape itself, of giving yourself permission to be deep, not spread shallow and wide. For those of us who are not indigenous to this place, I find his thinking a powerful invitation to court and honour the land where I find myself, and the people whose stories and songs and memories and ancestors are deeply entwined with this place.

“To be of a place is that moment where for a brief pocket of time you are the eyes of that place looking back on itself when it is pleased with itself. You are no longer the landlord but you are caught in a kind of delightful stewardship and entanglement with that place. That’s what all the stories are pushing to, the ones that have the ghost memory of when we were still caught in deep courtship with the earth.”

I wonder if we get too caught up in thinking about who owns a place, who is entitled to dominate it, to exclude others from is, to extract resources and profits from it, instead of thinking about how we listen to it, how we entangle with it, and with each other. When we acknowledge our relationship with and dependence on the land, isn’t it inevitable that we recognize our relationship and interdependence with each other?

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