The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place
The Power of Place
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.
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.
To 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.
The 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.
And 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.
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.