How does one talk about “Sense of Place?” What are the components of something that sounds so vague? What sorts of categories should be piled on top of one another to exact a complete picture: geographic location, real estate value, community, available amenities, weather patterns, nearby friends? What, exactly, does sense of place mean? For an answer (one of many possible answers) I will suggest you get in touch with our Thousand Island Life’s venerable editor, Susie Smith.
It was a beautiful day. People were out and about. Late in the afternoon there was a concert on a neighbor’s lawn. Alexandra Kassouf, daughter of our friends, os now working in Milwaukee and Chicago as an Alexander Technique teacher (movement educator) and professional singer. Dinner plans had been made with friends; we would eat on the porch in the evening sun.
The shadows stretched across the lawn by the River and people had driven their golf carts from non-west facing cottages to enjoy the sunset. As a bonus, our singing neighbor was serving wine. Another evening bonus was a planned visit to the local chapel to hear Susan speak about the histories of our islands and the names they had been given.
As luck would have it, unbeknownst to us, the stars were beginning to line up. We decided to enjoy the concert while waiting for our dinner friends to arrive. We stepped across the street and our next-door neighbors, seated on a big blanket, moved over to accommodate us. They scooted over again when our friends joined us. At our house, an ample dinner was taking care of itself in the oven. No worries there.
We would enjoy the unexpected pleasure of this concert in our front yard. I happened to look up the street and who did I see marching smartly toward us but Susan Smith herself. She had decided to come to Thousand Island Park early in case there were border delays, but since there were none, here she was; the stars themselves were aligning to create a perfect occasion. Susan arrive early, she must not have eaten, a concert needed to be in progress, enough food should be in the oven to accommodate an extra person, the weather must be lovely so as to allow one to be warm enough to sit on a lawn. (to say nothing of being ABLE to sit on a lawn!). The surroundings should be agreeable, the neighborhood should feel safe and comfortable. Serendipity.
Sense of place then, could be a feeling for a place we love and where we feel we belong. When the stars align often and when someone is paying attention, along sneaks that special feeling. It comes in this place often, so often that we wonder why it is so difficult to put our feelings into words.
To our friends we simply say, “you must just visit!” An actual place can be defined but feelings not so much. No matter how hard we try, the words ”wonderful, great! super!” go only so far in conveying a sense of something. We may think about a place and at the same time a sense of comfort and contentment just comes over us. We know we are supposed to be here, at this time. It is meant to be.
“You must write about this for TI Life!” said Susie, as we sat in the evening sun enjoying the scene, feeling the gift that was the evening. Hmmm…there’s a challenge. But now, in the early fall, more to the point, can we carry this feeling with us as we leave for warmer climes? If we can hold onto it, then I warrant that we have found our place, and we have a secure sense of what that place is. The desire to return to that place to recapture its sense is strong. We know that it will be here for us when we return in the spring when everything is fresh and new.
By Susan Schongalla, Thousand Island Park
Susan Schongalla is a resident of Thousand Island Park. She has written what she calls, "every day" articles for the “Thousand Islands Sun,” and she and her husband Doug, travel the world over when they leave the Park in the late Fall. Susan has written about their escapades in several “TI Sun” articles in the past and shared a couple of these with TI Life. When we asked for "small world stories," Susan sent us one that will make your head shake - it can be found in our July, 2019 issue.
Editor's Note: No three words describe the feelings we often get here in the Thousand Islands better than Sense of Place. That August afternoon was described perfectly by Susan Schongalla for I remember how I "choked up" with tears of joy as I sat on a stranger's lawn and enjoyed the most lovely music and the feeling of calm, knowing that I would be a guest speaker at an important history evening two hours later. Thank you Alexandra, for I truly hope I have an opportunity to hear you perform again and thank you Susan S, for capturing this perfectly.