Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sharing a sense of place.

Aside from business seminars, it's been ever so long that I've sat in a classroom with real students. Until the other day. My neighbor, a professor of anthropology at Prescott College, invited me for an informal, end of quarter class session dedicated to a sense of place, that place being central Arizona.

The students, most of whom had been in Prescott all of four months, were to select a favorite or interesting aspect of the local scene and share their sense of it by whatever means or media seemed most appropriate. The idea was to step back from the academic and change to a more direct, gut experience.

Here, Rhuta, the one native-born-and-raised Arizonan, confers with the professor...

...then, once her computer was synced with the house system, proceeded with a slide show of doors from all over town, doors representing entrances to new experiences and people. Interesting: I had also photographed some of the doors she collected, including the Cortez street entrance above. However, her deepest connection with place was Buckskin Canyon, a slot canyon off the Paria River (below) where she returns time and again to hike, camp and commune.

Brie, a newcomer from Maine, created collages to catch the feel of our boom town (above) and her joy in African dance participation (below).

Christine (at right, playing the guitar) performs what I call her Talkin' Granite Basin Lake Blues, all about how she often slipped into the basin at night, long after closing hours, enjoying the solitude -- and the uncountable shooting stars visible away from the city.

The paintings and breakfast remains belong to Sarah, a Philadelphian who had never seen real mountains until she flew out to Arizona to meet Prescott College. She too had slides -- a kaleidoscope of her many new experiences of Prescott (and those mountains, as seen from the window of a plane.) Oh, yes, the hat. It's a real beauty. She bought it from the shop on Whiskey Row and, like me, she also took pictures in the shop despite the "no photographs" sign.

Fox is a poet and a passionate one. His prime presentation wrapped around Thumb Butte and its sunsets.

For the record, the course is titled Contemporary Issues in Anthropology; the text (shown in the top picture) is History Is In The Land, which explores the oral traditions that link four contemporary tribes -- Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Zuni, and San Carlos Apache -- to Arizona's San Pedro Valley. My neighbor and I both share a fascination with a sense of place -- as I'm sure my readers are well aware.

More Academics: well, sorta. The dotter has just written a wonderful, very funny post on what it takes to get homework done.


Anonymous said...

Nice post. It must have been and interesting experience with all of those young students.

TomboCheck said...

Very interesting indeed.

Especially because they have been here for such a short time.

So what is your favorite aspect of the local scene?

Avus said...

Interesting post, Granny. A "sense of place" to me is what the ancients called the "genius loci". The feeling of "rightness" and a shiver down the spine as you stand at a location and it puts out its force field to you.

Granny J said...

steve -- yes -- it makes me feel quite old! I'd love to do the Granite Basin Lake sneak-in, like that one youngster.

tombo -- difficult question to answer. 10 years ago, I would have said, "the outback", but I'm not really in shape to enjoy it these days. Perhaps it is being in Arizona with four (count-em,4) seasons. And, of course, there are some really neat people hereabouts.

avus -- you are talking about a sense of CAP-P Place,as opposed to an everyday sense of place

Kim said...

Great post Granny J. As a student of landscape architecture, I am particularly interested in creating, enhancing, and maintaining a sense of place. As your students discovered, that sense of place is a different experience for everyone...we each add our own perceptions, past, lenses to our experience. Some people require a monumental identifying feature to understand place, others find it in the small and ordinary details. Either way, the feeling of a place is usually a combination of many things. And of course there are many similarities between what people experience.

Your documentation of your surroundings in this blog is a wonderful way to share your experience of place with others and to better understand your own surroundings. I know I am grateful to share in your walks, stories, and pictures.

I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a very strong identity and that is something I have come to cherish greatly. However, there are some forces at work that have been changing the neighborhood to look more like everywhere else and less of itself. That has spurred me to start a little project...documenting and thinking about what makes this neighborhood unique. You can find it here if you haven't already stumbled upon it: http://www.blenmanelm.blogspot.com.

Sorry that was a really long comment!

stitchwort said...

Your blog always gives a good sense of the place you live.

The internet is wonderful for letting us glimpse others' "places".

Granny J said...

kim -- nothing wrong with a long, pithy comment! As you might guess, I've long been a fan of Jane Jacobs -- I fell in love with the grittiness and the incredible variety that was Chicago when I lived there. Until you hit most modern burbs, every place has its own personality.

stitch -- thank you! and I enjoy your needlework and spinning vicariously, as I haven't done any myself in far too many years...

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