The Power of Place by Barbara R. Call

The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place

The Power of Place
By Barbara R. Call

As you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest,
or sprawl wet-legged by a mountain stream,
the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.
Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping


There are some places that shape your entire life — whether the seeds are planted early on, and the gifts sprout at different times during your life, or whether your life is altered from one certain point onwards.

I call this the power of place — not only the longing that pulls you back, to return again and again, but the piece that you take with you and hold in your being. It’s the essence that lingers in your heart, the magic that stays in your conscious; you can’t touch it or package it but it’s the knowledge that somehow, some way, this place has changed you forever.

Bisby is such a place.


I first started going to our family’s camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state as a child. My grandfather bought the rustic, rambling lodge like building, nestled on First Bisby lake, when my mom was 10 years old, and the tradition of traveling there every summer carried over from her life into mine. As far back as I can remember, we packed up and went to Bisby for the entire month of August while my father was free from his professorial duties at Cornell.

River in BisbyTo my outside friends, Bisby was a mysterious place — a long drive north, a bumpy dirt road that took you far into the woods, no real town to speak of, and, when I was little, no phone in the camp. It wasn’t just one step away from everyday life, it was several blocks. Most of my friends had never been there, and most never would. It was a retreat from all things, good and bad.

Arriving was like stepping back into time; every time was different, and yet the same.  The rustic camp greeted me with its burnished stripped wood staircase, off-kilter wooden floors and wisps of curled paint on the kitchen ceiling. The lake whispered to me, a glimpse from the big front window just enough to tell me which way the wind was blowing. And between the camp and the lake, and all around us, were the woods.

Flowers in meadowThe Adirondacks are old mountains, and many of the wooded areas near Bisby have never been seen by man’s eyes or trampled by man’s feet. In those wild and completely free places the forest grows as Mother Nature intends, with layers of trees, plants and ground cover stitched together like a tapestry: Magnificant maple and beech trees reach toward the sky, hemlock and soft larch trees fill in middle growth. On the forest floor, moss and ferns cover the shaded corners while tall and colorful foxglove or Indian paintbrush dot the sunny openings and occasional meadows.

But Mother Nature didn’t stop her composition with foliage — she sprinkled in lakes, rivers and streams for contrast and chattering red squirrels, noisy blue jays and wide-eyed deer for texture.

The result: A magical place, with magical powers, that has stayed with me my entire life, leaving an indelible mark on my outlook, my interests, my hobbies and my life. It’s my power of place.

Throughout my life, regardless of where I live, I’m drawn over and over again to the woods — to hike in, to bike through, to wander over. It’s where my soul relaxes, where the clatter of the tree limbs can sooth me, where the whisper of the wind through the pines settles my anxious fretting.

FoxgloveAnd the fixtures of the woods appear over and over again in my quiet moments and dreams — meditative visions of mossy stones, poetic musings of wood nymphs and forest fairies, collages that use bark, acorns, twigs and pebbles, and photos of trees, leaves and flowers.

Ahhhh . . . the flowers — the foxglove, in particular. I sometimes imagine myself as a hummingbird, fluttering past their stately stalks, waving gently in the wind. On a different day I’m a hawk, soaring high above their softly speckled velvet blossoms, or a red squirrel, busily gathering pinecones and seeds beneath their large, soft leaves.

What is the power of place? Why is it that the magic of a certain spot can shape your entire life? Some say that what makes you happy as a child feels familiar — and provides comfort — as an adult. Others say the key to happiness is doing what you love — and I’ve always loved exploring a wooded path, paddling along a dewy lakeshore or  climbing an unknown summit. Other, more mystic explanations involve past lives, and scientific theories might point to cellular memory.

Meandering BrookIn many ways it doesn’t matter whether we can explain it. The simple truth is everyone has a place that stirs the soul, awakens past lives, releases the passion or settles your very being.

While there are many reasons to travel, there’s a special key that turns when you find your powerful place. You’ll know it when you find it, and when you do, capture it — in your writings, your photos, your heart — and carry it with you. Fall back on it when times are tough, reflect on your gift when times are good; use it in whatever way suits your purpose on that day, that year, that moment. Tap the power of place and carry the magic with you, every day, and you’ll be one step closer to finding your true self.

Return to View from the Pier’s home page, which offers the latest articles on a variety of the world’s cultural traditions!

Barbara Call is a writer, editor and artist living in North Andover, Mass. She is the author of six books, including The Crafter’s Devotional: 365 Tips, Tricks and Techniques for Unlocking Your Creative Spirit. Contact her via email at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @BarbaraCall1.


22 thoughts on “The Power of Place by Barbara R. Call”

  1. Beautiful, Barbara! You’ve captured, so well, something most people experience, but may have trouble articulating. For some, the power of place may simply be familiarity, force of habit. For me, your suggestion of something far bigger involving the soul — perhaps even experiences of a past life — rings true.
    Well done!

    1. Thanks, Jeffrey. I’m with you on the “past life” concept… but the beauty is we can interpret it any way we please.

  2. Barb,
    Your pictures are lush and tranquil; your words, powerfully moving.
    I’m so glad to know more about Bisby– a place that has, in part, formed who you are: writer, artist, friend.
    I love your metaphor of nature tapestry’s, generously woven with lakes and ponds.
    Happy birthday to a woman as beautiful (and rugged!) as her favorite place!

  3. Barbara. A lovely piece of work. It draws me in and makes me think. You’ve struck a fine balance between theme and expression.

  4. Barbara. A lovely piece. It’s drawn me in and made me think. You’ve struck a fine balance between theme and expression.

  5. This I think the power of the memory, the happy memory. Because the same place however beautiful could be a reason for bad feelings. The conditioned connection inside the brain generates such feelings. But may be you were inspired by the Holy Spirit that one day there will be some power places to function as magic doors to the far planets as we see in fiction. I enjoyed the photos so that I wished I could be there for even a week.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Abdelwahab. I agree that the brain forms memories in interesting ways: Chances are that happy memories and happy places are more securely cemented in our brains because we revisit them over and over. “Bad” memories, on the other hand, get pushed away–which, as we know, isn’t always healthy.

  6. Beautiful scenery; I remember visiting the Adirondacks a couple of times during the years I lived in New York (Brooklyn); and its tranquility always provided a welcome escape from the hustle of the city. Thanks for the memories!

  7. Growing up in the Adirondacks, it was a full part of me. Your piece captures those deep feelings of self, as I still carry a part of my home with me. Perfection Barbara – thank you.

  8. Hello, Barbara. Thank you for your powerfully evocative piece about Bisby. I spent all of my summers there from birth to about 15 years ago at the Urion/Schuman camp that is now in your family since my brother Barry decided he had to let it go. We used to say that Bisby was more than a place– it was a state of mind. My wife and I have recently retired to our house on Loon @ake outside of the town of Rangeley, Maine. It’s sort of our new Bisby, and there are smells and sounds and sights here that often remind me of Bisby. I remember your dad running Bisby Days as my dad once did, and we have a Rushton guide boat that I’m pretty sure my grandfather Urion bought from your grandfather Gentry. Do you still get up to Bisby? Would love to hear more from you! Don Schuman

  9. wonderful commentary, brings Bisby memories back, actually they hardly ever leave! spent lots of summers with the Foote family at their camp, knew Washingtons, Palmers, Schumans, and those memories and friendships never leave me. I go to Bisby in my thoughts often. Brings me peace and some laughter! Have you any more pictures to share? The old gang would love it!

  10. Barbara, as an old Bisbyite (Foote camp), I loved your article. You captured the essence of a place that has stayed near to my heart though I left the States in 1968. Bisby taught me the joy of not just one place, but gave me the sensitivity to other magic places. I live in one now in rural Burgundy. What’s your email address? Would love to be in contact.

  11. Laura, I just found this piece. WOW!
    You have captured the very essence of Bisby.
    Whenever I need to go to my “happy place”, I end up on the lake in a guide boat…
    Thank you for putting into words that which I could not.

  12. Barbara, just shows how my brain shuts down when I go to Bisby, even for a short while. I was looking at the comments from Laura and my fingers just typed what I saw.
    again, thank you for a brief vacation from work today…

  13. Hi Barbara,
    We were across from you, Andrews and Viners. We rowed to your place and played with some kids, might have been you, in the 50s and early 60s. Sailed with the Shuman’s but they were quite a way down the lake closer to the general store, the canoe livery, and high diving board, the old tennis courts and the ice house. Thank you for your article. It is on my bucket list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *