Reviving “Sense of Place”

Rachel Carson’s assertion that a child must first form an emotional attachment with nature before he is willing to protect nature is an assumption in the sense of place movement.

When the education community was “atwitter” with the concept of a sense of place (1990s), I was an environmental educator in Arizona.  Much of the theoretical basis for this movement derived from studies that showed increased learning from experiential education (out in nature, hands-on, etc.)  Rachel Carson’s assertion that a child must first form an emotional attachment with nature before he is willing to protect nature is an assumption in the sense of place movement.  A National Endowment for the Humanities article by William R. Ferris (1996) is an excellent statement of the importance of place in human development:

Each of you carries within yourself a “postage stamp of native soil,” a “sense of place” that defines you. It is the memory of this place that nurtures you with identity and special strength, that provides what the Bible terms “the peace that passeth understanding.” And it is to this place that each of us goes to find the clearest, deepest identity of ourselves.

As Ferris explores the critical importance of the arts and humanities in education he offers a ten point plan that addresses the problems we face even now in 2012 (16 years later):

Those in politics have voiced their concern over the impoverishment of American life and values, but no one has found an answer to our problems. I suggest that the solution lies in the indigenous culture about which Alice Walker wrote, the familiar worlds into which we each are born. We must study and understand the worlds that make each of us American and through that journey we will renew American culture.

What is that postage stamp of place that makes you who you are?  Please share more and I also suggest that readers visit the link above to the Ferris article. Other resources to explore are:  Children’s Nature Network, A Sense of Wonder (film), The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich.


To be disconnected from any actual landscape is to be, in the practical or economic sense, without a home.  To have no country carefully and practically in mind is to be without a culture.  In such a situation, culture becomes purposeless and arbitrary, dividing into popular culture,” determined by commerce, advertising, and fashion, and “high culture,” which is either social affectation , displaced cultural memory, or the merely aesthetic pursuits of artists and art lovers.  ~ Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers, “Two Minds”

More Places

Deer Springs Inn

Up on the mountain,

Tracing the Mogollon Rim,

We hike and return by way of

The towering Outlook,

Black clouds overhead

We climb 80 feet up to

Join Ranger GS3-1in his lair.

 He scans the horizon for fire.

We chat and then leave for

Hopping-Hare cabin

 We are dreamily breathing

In the sulfur laden air of

Lightening-split sky

 Lying up in the loft,

Baptized by tumbling waters

When I was a youthful biology teacher in Buckeye, Arizona, a rural community southwest of Phoenix, a colleague privately shared information about a place he and his family vacationed – a place carefully guarded by all who frequented its cabins and woodlands.  It was Deer Springs Inn.  For forty years a retired publishing editor from Phoenix and his wife ministered to a little community of hand-built log cabins nestled in a grove of towering Ponderosa pines and to the families who frequented its beds, trails and campfires.  The first time I visited Deer Springs Inn, my daughter Heather and I drove up to meet the owners on a day trip.  What an adventure.  After climbing the Mogollon Rim from Phoenix to Payson, we traveled along a two lane highway dotted by tourist hotels and cabins, local grills and hunting and fishing outfitters.  We turned off the highway onto an unpaved forest road and drove on an undulating surface of rounded stones and rain carved gullies for 14 miles back into virgin Ponderosa Pine.  Deer Springs abuts the White Mountain Apache reservation which acts as a wildlife refuge, harboring elk from hunters.  Lou and Bea greeted us warmly and showed us around.  Each little cabin sported a jaunty name like Silver Squirrel, Hopping Hare, Bounding Bear and so forth.  There were five cabins that slept anywhere from 2 to 11 people.  Lou had installed solar panels to heat the water and barely light the cabins. Each cabin has a good supply of aromatic wood and big potbellied stove. There were no phones, TVs or other accoutrement from the so-called civilized world.  There was one Hamm radio at the main cabin.  At that time hardly anyone had a cell phone or laptop.

Heather was studying drawing at Arizona State University.  She left with dreams of drawing and painting on vacations and I with a plan to spend six weeks that following summer writing my first ever book.  I look across my dining room today and there hangs a gorgeous painting of one meadow near Deer Springs painted by Heather, reminding me of how imbued our psyches become with the places we love and cherish.

August 9, Monday 1999

Lingering-on at Deer Springs Inn…Heather off to photograph, I to write…sitting on a redwood seat by a little statue of St. Francis – lover of nature. Annie, big black lab of Ed and Mary, is barking at some distance through the woods.  Only the hum of a generator can be heard, and the mountain winds….