Where am I, anyway?

The question of place in writing fiction is challenging for me. It’s not a simple matter of geography (GPS can answer that one in a snap) or even culture. It’s a mad mix of topography, weather, flora and fauna, wilderness and civilization. It’s about the people who used to be here and the ones who are present now. Their language, their assumptions and the way they live on or with the land–all of these make this place what it is now.

As a person who has wandered a great deal from place to place in my lifetime, I wonder. Can I ever belong anywhere? And even if I settle down, which I choose to believe I now have, I must admit that I carry many other places and their experiences within myself. I’m no native . . . anywhere.

Unlike Goodhusband, who grew up in this same area where we are now settled, I have lived my life in a long, looping track of temporary environments. They have formed my impressions and tinge my interactions with the land and people here in northwest Iowa. If I see a garter snake, I can’t help but think of the poisonous varieties of serpents that I dodged as a little girl in the bayou regions of southeast Texas. When I admire the daylilies in the ditches along our county road, I think back to the black-eyed Susans of Texas and the graceful columbine of Colorado. And I’ve changed this place to suit my memories of what home should be. There are aspen trees in my yard and some of the aforementioned columbine in my garden. No poisonous snakes, though. Thank goodness.

Realizing that we are indelibly marked by our past places and that we leave marks wherever we are . . . this is part of what it means to be a physical being in physical places over time.

So ask yourself today . . . where am I? And how have I changed this place to suit me, even as it affects me to belong to it?

In the novel I’m working on now, the main character is a lifelong wanderer like me. I’m not sure I could write about someone who lived all of her or his life in one place. That experience is a mystery to me. But maybe if I stay here long enough, I’ll taste it. That sense of belonging for life. Just maybe.

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