A Sense of Place

I love maps.  Topographical, road, flight maps, ancient there-be-dragon maps and modern maps with ever-changing borders.  An elementary school assignment — I can’t remember what grade — involved writing a log for a trip around the world.  You could start and end wherever you wanted.  I remember visiting Barcelona, Athens, Istanbul, Cairo, Delhi, Tokyo, Perth, the Easter Islands, trekking high into the Andes, then to Rio, Mexico City, the Grand Canyon, way up to the Hudson Bay, and then landing back in my hometown in suburban Columbus, Ohio.  I avoided the USSR.  It was the late ’60s but it was before détente. I can still say that it was my all-time favorite school assignment ever.

ohio_ref_2001For all my love of the earth “graphies” — topography, geography, cartography — I struggle with defining a sense of place where I live today.  Pigspittle, Ohio, isn’t on a map.  It is a nickname for a real place that I’d rather not name, in part because my perception of Pigspittle is colored by my political and cultural leanings, which are left of center, a distinct minority.

The town is 96% white.  Many family names stretch back a century or more.  It is traditional, conservative, and, well, churchy.

Churches are everywhere.  Baptist, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Church of God, more than 70 in fewer than 10 square miles.  Here, a middle school teacher was fired for imposing his religion on students, favoring intelligent design (well, really, I’m sure he preferred creationism) over evolution.  He burned a cross on a student’s forearm with a Tesla coil.  His many court appeals have been supported by a fired football coach who now runs a ministry intent on, among other things, shaming homosexuals.  I won’t go into the coach’s sordid family history.

The town would rather embrace as its favorite son a late 19th-century minstrel singer than a 20th-century popular comedian who happened to be gay.

I didn’t plan to live in Pigspittle, let alone be here for 12 years.  My one previous visit was in fifth grade for a diving tournament — a spectacularly bad performance which I made worse by being spectacularly petulant.

For all my prejudices, I am grateful to be here.  Some of the most beautiful land in the country is just two miles from my house.  Hills and streams lead to the moody Kokosing River that feeds the Walhonding River, leading to the Muskingum and down deep to the mighty Ohio.  The woods are filled with deer, fox, and mink.  On my way to work just a month ago, a bald eagle swooped down and into the trees ahead of me.

I like that it is not unusual to see an Amish horse and buggy in the Kroger parking lot.  We can watch the fireworks on the 4th of July from our backyard.  In the summer, the farmer’s market on the Square is chatty and vibrant.  When I go out, I usually run into a least one person I know (a good/bad thing, depending on how social I’m feeling). Last Christmas Eve, I found a wallet in the parking lot at CVS and happened to know its owner — I saved Christmas!

The day I met Scout.
The day I met Scout.

Then there is Scout, a kitten I found on Compromise Street, near the trashy park in a no-man’s land of weedy yards and crumbling roads.  I was headed to the river to see the effects of a derecho that had burst through town the night before.  I heard the Kokosing was swift and high.  But as I turned down Compromise, this skinny kitten walked out into the middle of the road and sat down and cried.

Her eyes were infected and she stunk.  I picked her up and walked her the mile back to our house.  Two months later, the vet removed both eyes.  My husband and I dote on her.  She holds her head high and sniffs the air, finds joy in every toy, adapts to changes in the placement of chairs and rugs, makes up new games for herself, hates to be bored.

Scout today, nearly a year later.
Scout today, nearly a year later.

A sense of place is what you hear, see, smell, taste, touch in the ground and air around you.  With my sightless cat as a guide and my husband as companion, I am learning to be mindful of all senses.  It’s not so much about geography or where you put your feet — it’s where you put your heart, who and what you love.

106 Comments A Sense of Place

  1. Thewitch April 24, 2014 at 5:03 am

    I really enjoyed reading this, and am now completely intrigued. Will definitely come back for more!!

    Reply
  2. Meg April 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Thanks so much, Nikki. I visited your blog and am now a follower. Love your conversational style and view of the world…and want to know more about that exploding brain! I feel like I’m still in grant-writing (what I do for a living) mode…need to loosen up some.

    Reply
  3. Jeanne April 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    That comedian was gay? As a southerner, I’ve always enjoyed the irony of the minstrel singer being associated with the town. “This,” I tell my friends from college (in Arkansas), “is the place where people miss the south so much that they have to write about it. Sing, even.”

    Reply
    1. Meg April 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      Hah! That’s great, Jeanne. So true.

      Reply
  4. innatejames April 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    We have a lot in common: the first is a love of maps. I’m so glad I found your blog!

    Reply
    1. Meg April 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      Thank you — I’m glad you found it too!

      Reply
  5. unprepared mother April 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Aww what an adorable post, there must be something intrinsically good about you to take Scout in (I can say this cos I like to think I’d do the same 😉 ) can’t wait to hear more about her

    Reply
    1. Meg April 24, 2014 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks! Definitely more to come about Scout…especially since our lives pretty much revolve around her. In a good way.

      Reply
    1. Meg April 24, 2014 at 10:56 pm

      Wow! I’m honored! Thanks so much. Just visited your blog and found it fascinating. I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska. Your photos are amazing. I love the vet science, and you’ve got such a compelling story. Again, my warm thanks — for reading and nominating!

      Reply
  6. matinamk April 25, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Hello!
    I’m writting to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Award! This is a way of bloggers to show their appreciation to other bloggers. In this way, potential readers can find out about your blog and the blogs of people you may choose to nominate.

    You can get more information about Liebster award at:
    http://youhandmademehappy.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/liebster-award-nomination/
    🙂

    Reply
    1. Meg April 25, 2014 at 10:08 am

      Yay! What a wonderful way to get up in the morning. Thanks so much, Matinamk. As a fellow crafty type, I’m especially honored. Love your blog.

      Reply
  7. helen meikle's scribblefest May 2, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    I love this post, everything about it. (I sold maps for about 10 years – love them, know them well) So glad you found and followed me – it meant that now I’ve found you as well!

    Reply
    1. Meg May 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Thank you, Helen!

      Reply
  8. Linda Roy May 29, 2014 at 12:18 am

    I’m born and raised an Ohioan and I now happily live on the East coast. I get where you’re coming from. (See what I did there?) 😉 I think you might enjoy reading and/or guest posting at the political satire/pop culture site I co-run called Lefty Pop. http://leftypop.com.

    Reply
    1. Meg May 29, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Thanks, Linda! I will check it out.

      Reply
    2. Meg June 30, 2014 at 8:06 am

      Hey Linda, I just learned that we have a friend in common — Alan Grandy. I had a feeling our degrees of separation were not very big. I love that.

      Reply
  9. jillscene June 3, 2014 at 5:32 am

    Spectacularly petulant, Christmas saviour with maps! That’s gotta be someone to follow!

    Reply
    1. Meg June 3, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Hah! My husband will confirm my spectacularly petulant self. Thanks, Jill. I appreciate the follow and have returned it! Look forward to reading your blog.

      Reply
  10. Lisa June 5, 2014 at 12:59 am

    I missed this when you first posted it but I’m enjoying it now. I love you, your thoughts, and your turns of phrase, Meg. Glad I have you here in Pigspittle with me.

    Reply
    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Awwww. I love you back, Lisa, and am so glad to have your friendship. I miss seeing you!

      Reply
  11. allthoughtswork July 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    As a cat-lovin’, nature-worshiping, scorching liberal awesome writer from Cowpie, Iowa, I feel your pain. And your joy. Yes, the whiteness and the churchiness but also the Miracle Whip casserole-ness, the satellite dishness (I’m dating myself), and the eye rolling abundance of Walmart haute couture. Come on, people, be better than pajama pants at Red Lobster!

    I escaped the Midwest, ensconced myself briefly in Colorado for a shot of mountains and yucca, then kept on going until I hit Oregon and sea water. It’s good here; I like the slugs. The farmer’s markets are so large, they’re like strip malls, so I avoid them but we got Bald Eagles thick as sparrows along the great Columbia River.

    Scout is way cool but now that her hearing and smell are so cranked, you will never get away with sneaking into the kitchen for a snack, ever.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 14, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      This is so Pigspittle: “Yes, the whiteness and the churchiness but also the Miracle Whip casserole-ness, the satellite dishness (I’m dating myself), and the eye rolling abundance of Walmart haute couture. Come on, people, be better than pajama pants at Red Lobster!” I remember spying a woman in Kroger wearing her pajamas that had about three inches of dirt on the pants legs. Still a lot of satellite dishes around here. Glad you found Oregon. I want to live by the ocean so bad I can taste salt. Thanks again for reading and commenting, kindred spirit.

      Reply
  12. Notes From a Hermitage July 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Oh my. I so hear you. Thanks for the beautiful writing. Fanned, faved, and followed.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 14, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks so much! Will return the favor!

      Reply
  13. Meredith August 10, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    I enjoyed this post so much

    Reply
  14. Meredith August 10, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    Reblogged this on Covey View and commented:
    Meg gives us a sense of place on her blog.

    Reply
    1. Meg August 10, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks, Meredith! <3

      Reply
  15. Stacie October 22, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Awww, so good. And congrats for being Freshly Pressed!

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Thank you, Stacie! xoxo

      Reply
  16. allthoughtswork October 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Nice to see WordPress finally discovered this post. I enjoyed reading it all over again.

    PS: If you still want to live by the ocean, grab the kitty and the other big squeeze and come to Oregon. Our blue state has got churches without the churchiness and not a casserole in sight.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Awwww, so good to see your post, Anna. I do still want to live by the ocean. Gotta work on that. Hope you’re doing well!

      Reply
  17. megangilley October 25, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    This made my heart laugh and hurt all at the same time. What a sweet little Scout you have. Thank you for the genuine read.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:34 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  18. abbymorales October 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Do you have a recommendation of where to find old maps for research? I’m looking for a town/railroad map of America during 1880-1900. I really appreciate your help. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      Thank you!

      Reply
      1. Josh Oladele October 27, 2014 at 3:56 am

        You are welcome. I love maps too

        Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I can say that Scout is a happy, adventurous cat. Sometimes I get sad when I think about what she misses, but she compensates her blindness with amazing skill.

      Reply
  19. dikshitjoshi14 October 25, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    it is such a lovely thing to read. I dare readers to take their eyes off it. And yeah feeling sorry for the cat

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Awww, thanks so much.

      Reply
  20. apollema October 25, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Just moved to LA from the Midwest. Totally hit home.

    Reply
  21. apollema October 25, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Just moved to LA from the Midwest. Totally hit home.

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Thank you for reading. Glad it resonated!

      Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Thank you!

      Reply
  22. Silverleaf October 25, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Shivers. You gave me shivers. I love maps and of course I know a bit of your story, so I was so focused on that, I didn’t notice what you were doing. I love the way you tied it all together with what Scout has brought to your perception of place and home. And again, congratulations 🙂 xo

    Reply
    1. Meg October 25, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks, Silverleaf! I can turn any nonfiction (and probably fiction) piece into something about Scout or my mom. Hah! So glad you liked it. <3

      Reply
  23. Sierra Michaels October 25, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    I have nominated you for the Liebster Award. See my blog for the details. Here are your questions. Congratulations! Sierra Michaels. http://sieramichaels.wordpress.com

    Here are your 10 questions:

    1. What inspires you to blog?
    2. Ocean or mountain?
    3. Favorite City?
    4. Traveler or homebody?
    5. Favorite time of the year?
    6. Favorite movie?
    7. Favorite book?
    8. If you could have dinner with three people dead or alive, who would they be?
    9. Top thing on your bucket list?
    10. Morning or evening person?

    Reply
  24. robinofrockridge October 25, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Love the name Pigspittle! Ha, ha, I think we drove through it on our way to PA last August.

    Reply
  25. Candice Major October 26, 2014 at 3:14 am

    I love your take on the ‘Home is where the heart is’ idea. I also love that your good heart has allowed you to take in a blessing like Scout. And, I also love what you said about being mindful of all senses. Such a difficult feat, but I’m rooting for you. Congrats on this wonderful post.

    Reply
  26. mirrorgirl October 26, 2014 at 4:40 am

    It sounds like you used your senses already when you started to love maps and travel the world In your head. People who notice things around them usually care more, too. Scout was lucky to be found by you, because you see the beauty and everything and then it doesn’t matter that he can’t see it with his eyes. You both have sensitive eyes in many other ways.

    Reply
  27. writenlive October 26, 2014 at 5:15 am

    I appreciate the way you love the place you live in. We are mostly ‘spectacularly petulant’ in new places, yearning for what we left behind and too wrapped up in ourselves to ever discover new wonders.

    Reply
  28. bogdanem October 26, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Greetings from Poland, from another maps-lover 🙂

    Reply
  29. Jessica Barrett October 26, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I share your wanderlust and love of kitties (I love that her name is Scout). This was so refreshing to read. I’m a transplant from the Midwest to the south and often feel these same things; I love it here, but don’t quite identify with most people who have always lived here. I’m simultaneously lost and found. The beauty of this place is enough for me to stay. You really captured so much in this post, it was just the read I needed today.

    Reply
  30. liature October 26, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    This kitty is lucky to meet you! Touching story. I’m looking form new friends there. Would be grateful, if you visit my blog

    Reply
  31. sarasallydavis October 26, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Ah, yes, Pigspittle! I’m familiar with it. If your map extended just a tad to the right, whoops, east, you would see my little town in Beaver County, PA. We have our own special qualities, but we share much. Some rural, more blue-collar, and thank heaven for the closeness of Pittsburgh. I thoroughly enjoyed your piece, and I love the rest of your site. I grew up here, it was a wonderful place to be a child, and after many, many years came back twenty-seven years ago to raise my own children after divorce. I was forty. It was a good decision on my part, thank heaven. We have roots here, family and community, a good community, far from perfect, as are all homeplaces, I think. I’m also a liberal, which I freely admit to when pressed : ) But your feelings about what is important to a full life and sense of place, and finding your place within that space, rings so true. I’m not a big commenter, but I will be reading your work with pleasure. Thank you.
    Sally

    Reply
  32. phil2bin October 26, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Nice, I know that territory all too well (grew up in Perrysburg, went to OSU). Still spmehow think of Pburg as “home” eve thoigh I’ve been im Seattle for 40 yearsn

    Reply
  33. Beelzebelle October 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    I love maps too. I also think I may have lived in the Australian equivalent of Pigspittle.

    Reply
  34. naneunfha October 27, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Great

    Reply

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