My name is Dillon Kelly, and I am a student in Chewonki Semester 53. Each student spent six weeks researching a topic relating to Human Ecology, defined as the “study and improvement of the relationship between humans and our social and natural communities” by the College of the Atlantic. My Human Ecology Project (HEP) was an investigation of nature writers in Maine and how sense of place changed the style of writing over time. Over the course of a two-day solo on the Neck, I wrote a piece of nature writing that takes the form of a letter to a stranger. The letter is an observation of my sense of place, and how places are coming apart. Please, regard this letter as an invitation to find a place, or simply start making a change in the areas where all our places come together.
I think you’d like it here. Indeed, how could you not? This is a place where trees grow from the rocks, rocks that talk to the sea twice a day. If that isn’t beauty, I don’t know what is. This is a place of forest, of a cleansing fire every autumn, where the trees blazed in golden, red, orange; their leaves blanket the ground gently, putting it to bed.
It is beautiful here. By this point, you are probably wondering where “here” is. That is understandable. The answer is, I don’t know. And I am alright with that. My place, at least for now, is the spit of land called a Neck, where my school is. I could not tell you where yours is. Only you can do so. And that is good and right. For, just as everyone is different, so is their place- or in some cases, places.
But the point of this letter is not to tell you of my places. It is to tell you of my place- my current place. My place of cows, skunks, students, and raccoons. So, if you know where your place is, why don’t you go there. Sit on a rock, and I’ll talk to you across time, never knowing your face. If you don’t have a place, that is fine, too. Maybe, hopefully, my words will help you find one.
My current place, my home for now, a place I’ll carry always, is one where life ebbs with the seasons, even as creeks ebb with the tide. It is late autumn now- the mornings and nights are cold, but the days are still warm. I have spent most of my days sitting on this rock that reaches down into the creek. Today, as I have written and knit, I have seen the tide low, leaving the knotted wrack lying on the rocky shore, the mudflats open to the sun. I have since watched the tide slowly rise, to cover those mudflats, and carry the knotted wrack to its surface, holding them tall at its peak. It carried them for much of the day, but the effort was much, and it is beginning to sink back toward Europe. The tide is falling like a sine wave. At its height, it was reluctant to leave, now its decision made, it is in freefall- that is the way of the world.
Today, from this place, on this rock, I have watched the sun glide across the sky, reaching its height and now, watching majestically, as the day rolls and shadows lengthen. The stream, the creek, the estuary has changed, too. It has changed beyond the simple change of the tide. This morning it was glass. The trees across the way were in the fire of autumn, and the creek held that fire in its mirror.
My place is larger than this rock. It is the whole of the Neck from the Point to the mainland, where I have traveled across trails bathing in its beauty. There is the quad, where sunlight pools on blades of grass, and roof tops and is swept away by the gentlest breeze. It is that spit of land that reaches into the blue sea, nothing but sky for a ceiling. It is the rolling hills on the farm, the land that is encased the trees, a little clearing in the canopy of the forest where a giant has fallen. It is the strange clearing a few feet behind me, a clearing of many dead snags, those few trees that are dead and yet stand. Or are they dead? When I look up, and crane my neck, I glimpse new life at their peak. That is the beauty in nature.
The sounds of my place change as much as the sights. This morning birds called harshly across the creek, chasing herons and ducks away. This place now, near noon, would hear the songs of the wren and chickadee. That is beauty. I have also heard the rumble of chainsaws, the groans of heavy machinery. A motor boat sped down the channel, and I could listen to the future in its propeller blades.
But that is enough of my place, Stranger. What of yours? I have said, “I do not know it.” That is most certainly true. It does not help that I do not know you. But let me hazard a few guesses. It could be a place like mine, a mountain top, a waterfall, a forest. It could be a skyscraper, a city, or anywhere else you listen to cars instead of chickadees. It could be a place of comfort, a chair in the house you grew up in. It could be all of these. It could be none of them. I do not know. I am comforted by knowing that you have one, whether you know it or not. I hope you are like me, and have many places. But, I will not know.
You know, Stranger, I have been eating dinner as I write this letter. A rather simple dinner, of crackers, carrots, and cheese. But now, I want to stop, and make a toast. I will drink from my blue Nalgene, you drink from yours, or your champagne glass, you coffee cup, or whatever else you happen to choose. I would toast to us. That is what friends do, is it not? And I, for one, consider us friends, even if you do not, Stranger. So, “To Us.”
Now. To business. You see, Stranger, many of my places are in danger. People, you and me both, are causing it. Now, this is not an attack. This is not an accusation. It is an observation. Society is causing the destruction of many places, the wilder ones in particular.
Now, I know you might not care for the places of knitters & writers if you are one who dreams in numbers and symbols. That is fine. I am less concerned for the places of business executives and other desk jockeys. That is life. None of us are able to be concerned for everyone and everywhere.
However, all of our places are connected. Since, I have only recently learned to knit, you’ll need to bear with me. Knitting is really just the tying of slipknots, around each other. And so, every knot holds on to itself and does not need any other reason to hold its shape of a hat or a sock.
All of our places are knitted together. They are interconnected on this beautiful planet we share. But I would not be writing this letter if I did not see a problem in how we worked in and with the world. And I can best describe it in terms of knitting. Since knitting is made up only of slipknots, all it takes is a single pull to bring it undone. We are yanking on this world, and we need to stop. Because if that yanking brings my places undone, soon yours will unravel as well.
Stranger, I’ll close in saying that if you ever meet me, ask me about my places. I’ll be wearing them around me like you might wear a patchwork quilt. I’ll be sure to ask you about yours.