Space and Place

I’m about to embark on a rather lengthy exploration of space and place, beginning with a look at Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place, Gaston Bechelard’s The Poetics of Space, a photobook entitled Nisqually Watershed, and a look at several local poets who focus on the local environment.

First, a disclaimer. One of the advantages of self-learning is you can focus on exactly what you want to look at without feeling obliged to cover a book with the depth or breadth it probably deserves and would certainly demand in an academic setting. In other words, don’t consider what I write a thorough analysis of any of these works (of course, you probably already know that if you visit here regularly). I’ve simply chosen parts that seem particularly relevant to my own personal quest.

And there’s no doubt that my recent move back to the Puget Sound area combined with the struggle of trying to remake a home into the kind of space I want to live in while dealing with aging issues has made me more aware than ever of how I am affected by my immediate environment.

In a broad sense, I certainly feel like I’ve come “home,? but in other, more personal ways, I miss the house I just left, the one I spent over fifteen years transforming into “my home.?

I was born in Seattle, and though I spent three years in Walnut Creek, California, I always considered Seattle home throughout my youth. After graduating from the U of W, though, I relocated to Vancouver, Washington, and spent the next thirty-five years there. Though that Vancouver house was the most intimate space I’ve ever occupied and I hated to leave it, I have long felt that Seattle was home.

This passage from Tuan

Place can acquire deep meaning for the adult through the steady accretion of sentiment over the years. Every piece of heirloom furniture, or even a stain on the wall, tells a story. The child not only has a short past, but his eyes more than the adult’s are on the present and the immediate future. His vitality for doing things and exploring space is not suited to the reflective pause and backward glance that make places seem saturated with significance. The child’s imagination is of a special kind. It is tied to activity.

seems to address the split I often feel lately. Spending long hours on Puget Sound fishing with Mt Rainier standing guard in the distance as a child had an indelible impression on me. I’ve never felt entirely comfortable living in a place that lacked both water and mountains, and I’ve never felt more at home than when I’m walking Ruston Way and can see Mt. Rainier in the distance.

On the other hand, “the steady accretion of sentiment over the years“ would certainly explain my attachment to the Vancouver home I recently left because I spent long hours remodeling the home and building 90 per cent of the furniture, not to mention the extensive yard work, the large raised-beds filled with home-made compost, the rock fountain, the shade garden, and the fruit trees and plants I started. Unfortunately, I lack both the desire and the strength to duplicate those efforts here in Tacoma, though I am finally enjoying homegrown corn and tomatoes for the first time in three years. More importantly, I have all the memories of time spent with children and friends, memories impossible to recreate not matter how hard I tried.

Strangely, though, my thirty-five year absence from the Puget Sound, has made its rediscovery, both through long walks and through photography, all the more poignant, as hopefully revealed through the photographs and stories I’ve shared here. I don’t think I realized this or understood the reason for it I until I read:

An object or place achieves concrete reality when our experience of it is total, that is through all the senses as well as with the active and reflective mind. Long residence enables us to know a place intimately, yet its image may lack sharpness unless we can also see it from the outside and reflect upon our experience. Another place may lack the weight of reality because we know it only from the outside-through the eyes as tourists, and from reading about ii in a guidebook.

After being stationed in several areas of the nation during my Army tour of duty, I knew I would spend the rest of my life in the Pacific Northwest, and after being stationed in the Mojave Desert, I had a very different attitude towards our rainy weather.

I’ve also come to appreciate subtle differences between the Puget Sound and other areas of Western Washington since moving here from Vancouver, only 160 miles to the south. Though subtle they are quiet real even if masked by the larger population found here.

In other words, having returned I know and appreciate this place much better than I ever did before I left. In fact, I suspect I know it in ways that I would never have known it even if I’d spent the thirty-five years here.