Flash: A Sense of Place

Photo by zengxiao lin on Unsplash

The migration brought the normal crowds. First, the winged creatures landing in the opened space in the woods, next the four-legged creatures traveling from here to there, and finally the two-legged creatures following in their wake. One group of the two-legged non-furred beings stopped for a time, enjoying the spring berries and early summer leaves while feasting on one of the four-legged animals they brought down with sling spears. A stream curled through the area, further away this century than last century as a bend met on the far side and connected. Still, enough water for the plants to be healthy, the resident creatures to drink deep during the summer heat and winter cold, and the land to thrive.

One of the visitors did a curious thing. It gathered a pile of stones and placed it near one of the large trees on the edge of the clearing. It shared a word for the pile with its herd, giving the place a name and the stones soaked in the naming into the ground creating a sense of place.

The group returned when the leaves changed colors, eating different plants but the same animals. This visit was shorter as they chased the four-legs creatures back to greener pastures. During the visit, they added more stones to the pile while righting those knocked down in the storm or moved around by the local residents. The place, proud of its name, hoped to draw those that named it back noted what plants they liked for the spring and the fall and encouraged the rejected seeds in the midden pile to grow.

The two-legged herd returned year-after-year to the named place. The spear-slings became supplemented with and eventually replaced by bows and arrows. The fire pit grew complicated, hardening clay from the nearby stream. Dyed and decorated leather and skin sheets replaced makeshift leaf and bough shelters.

One spring, a two-legged creatures broke a leg. These animals could not stay standing with only one leg to balance on. This had happened before and the midden pile had the bones telling the ancient tragities of those who can no longer walk. This time was different. Others of its herd used their upper limbs to stablize the leg with a stick, but chasing the migration would be beyond the damaged creature for several weeks. One volunteered to stay behind with them, smaller than the broken one, but clearly an equal in some way as they shared sleeping furs.

Before leaving, the group cleared space, made a small fire pit, and set up a leather shaded lean-to. They lined the fire pit with some of the rocks from the naming pile, creating a hearth to aim the heat into the shelter against night time chill.

The name had changed over the years, yet the sense of place remained.

The herd left clay pots, wicker baskets, and dried meat behind. The small one used the first empty clay pot to gather water from the stream. At this time, the stream twisted closer to the named placed; within the time a sprout grows from see to first leaf, a hard path carved through the woods from the clearing to the water. The local rodents and herbivores had kept the plants along the way low to the ground, the human cleared it to dirt. It set up snares and traps, keeping it and its mate in food. They tested vegetation and ate well from the nut-bearing trees when the spring berries faded.

A moon passed from fat to thin, then did so again. The larger biped regained use of its second walking limb. They debated chasing their herd down, but decided to wait for the others’ return. The smaller animal stitched together the furs from the rodents, the larger replaced broken clay utensils and made more of the baked mud items, experimenting with new dirt in the area. They expanded their lean-to and named the place good, reaffirming the sense of being.

It liked the humans. And missed them when they returned to their migration.

The next time through, those in the herd with gray hair decided to stay in the named place for the season. A sturdier shelter was created, the midden seeds became delibrate scattering, and the eldery enjoyed the rest from the constant travel.

Over time five shelters with holes dug deep to support beams and thatching created a year-round community. The flat land between the named place and the stream became cleared for a new invention: crops. The floors of each shelter became a mix of hardened soil and rocks from the naming pile.

The place grew, incorporating the crop-land and stream-bed and tree-line into its being. More than just a place, it became a territory.

When a different group of bipeds came and took fire out of the hearths and laid waste to the crops and the shelters, the place wept. Neither the invaders nor the migration herd returned for winter after spring after summer.

The humans had left their stamp on the territory. While the woods tried to claim the named-place, the trees and undergrowth never could grow as high plants in the surrounding soil after the years of habitation hardening the ground. The croplands accepted the woodland vegetation return, but keep a lot of the tasty plants the humans had liked in a seasonal bloom.

Dry times and dark times made several years bad for the resident animals and local plants. Fire ravaged the area, and the stream danced madly in the mud along its empty banks. It dug deeper, chasing upriver for new water sources, stealing a new feeding basin from a neighbor. The burden of greater amount of water filled isolated oxbow lakes while it twisted and turned in its deeper bed. The banks held the active water poorly, floods overflowing into the meadows the water cleared annually but never reaching the named placed, leaving its precious naming stones in place.

Eventually new humans return. They chose to camp closer to the stream. The named place tried to tempt the bipeds to live within its territory, ripening a bountiful offering of nuts and plants its old companions had enjoyed, scared for the new settlers being attacked by its angry, troublesome watery associate. The new humans brought their own seeds and their own animals, eschewing the migration meals of old. Their first homes dug into the floodplains, though moved further away from the river after each engorged spring.

Eventually one family, more interested in wood than crops, found the quiet slow-growth area. They dug out a basement, then built a tall fireplace for a central hearth, lining it with stones and rocks from clearing they had cut clear. The place sighed welcome to the family.

They gave the place a new name, similar in feeling to the names it had collected throughout the millennia.

The one it loved most meant “Home.”

Years passed. Dirt floors became rough wood. Rough wood became split wood. Then rugs. Then carpet.

The place did not like the synthetic carpet in the unnatural colors. The fabric flooring lacked the natural sense of animals or plants. Maybe it was inappropriate, but the territory called the rodents indoors to nibble on the edges of the carpet. It took nearly three decades as the humans counted it, but the carpet got replaced by hardwood floors from distant woods, stone tiles from foreign quarries, and wool rugs from sheep species never seen in the river basin’s area. Still anything was better than bright orange shag carpet.

New houses came and the area became a desirable cul-de-sac, backing as it did into protected wetlands. The named-place heart became known as Oak Court, but the territory still claimed the plains to the river where the children ran. The youthful upright bipedals with four-legged friends barking beside them returned from many adventures with pockets of rocks. Sometimes the piles remained outside as parents emptied pockets and cleaned dirty cheeks before allowing entrance. Other times a drawer became secretly set aside for the magical stones – a stripe of agate, an unexpected arrow head.

Old plants which civilized people no longer ate remained just in case, berries providing sticky juices for the explorers.

The named place kept the dirt soft for bare feet. in return, children picked up stones and moved them into piles throughout the flood plain, providing secret names to a place they loved well.

Sometimes the place chased off intruders, not wanting to be alone again. It removed the undersireables from the area. No attackers of its humans were allowed. No more fire starters. No more poisoners. Industrial surveyors got unexpectidly lost, their markers removed by resident animals. The place only wanted people who loved it.

Oak Court within Woodland Creek Terrace remained residental while bipedals landed on the moon, and on Mars, and, eventually, on Alpha Centari. One of its beloved humans took a stone it had found in childhood to the new place so distant from the named place. A place that had been named on maps, but never named with prescence. The rock had been cleansed for the distant travel; the used-to-be child wanting to take a bit of home with them. At the new place, they passed on a secret name.

The stones in the area heard the word. The sound soaking in, and a sense of place grew.

(words , first published 2/23/2024)