In Ways Not Always Obvious, Where We Live Shapes Our World View
When I was in high school (a very long time ago), I eagerly signed up for a course in political geography. I was sorely disappointed that the course never took off. Out of a student body of hundreds, we could not find 10 or 12 students who thought this might be a useful field of study. Most people thought technology had made geography irrelevant.
Technology has freed us from much of the limits of geography. That was true when the telegraph spanned the West. Today, we have travel, observation, and communication that reduce the effects of geography. But any soldier or fire fighter will tell you, geography still shapes what is possible.
But there is a more subtle, almost philosophical effect to geography as well. I had that brought home to me last weekend.
As many of you know, we moved into the Smoky Mountains a couple of years ago. I always thought I was a mountain/forest sort of guy. This move confirmed that overwhelmingly. I feel connected to these mountains in a way that is difficult to articulate. And so do others here. The geography around here is considered sacred territory.
People speak of being “cradled by these old mountains.” One walks in the forests with reverence. An effect of that attachment is a tendency to judge things by their effects on the environment. It tends to shape how one thinks about many things, about life generally.
This past weekend, we went to the beach to visit with friends. We left the lush green giants of granite and stone. We wound up in vast areas of sand, sun, and seriously flat terrain as far as one could see. The people who lived there were obviously attached to their geography, too. But in what seemed a very different way.
They celebrate the effects of the sun and sand on their pleasure more than the elements themselves. I say that with no criticism implied, but as a curious observation. Different geography elicits different responses.
I saw the same “different effects with different geography” years ago. I was living and travelling in the West. Imagine an area wherein one could travel all day without seeing another person. Living in an area where the boundary between land and sky seemed to disappear, and both ran forever. Live in that setting and you might think everyone on the East Coast, and their machinations, are nuts.
On the other hand, imagine you live in New York City, which I had the pleasure of doing for a couple of years. You could wonder what the noise out West about rugged individualism and water rights is all about.
So, take a moment and think about what your natural surroundings look like. Reflect a bit on how they shape how you view the world. Those effects are likely more profound than you might have considered.
And while you are at it, give thanks for whatever nature you have close to you on a recurring basis. You are better for that proximity. I know I am.
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