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.
For 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!
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.
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.
Does the following make any sense? I like maps for the simple fact that they show you places. They show u and I where we are! They show that places exist, that they are real, people and things are in or at those places. Tangible things…life…we’re alive! Does that make any sense? It does to be. Too deep? Maybe I think differently…
Loved reading your post because I too am enamourned with maps. Sense of place has so much meaning for me, I think because we moved often. On her website, Georgia Ella Lyon has created a great template for creating poetry related to sense of place. And I’m bottle feeding 5 orphaned kittens. I found their dead mother after hearing their desperate cries.
I’ve recently moved back to my hometown – a town much further “right” than I am – and am having difficulty readjusting to feeling settled in this place. This entry was quite encouraging to me as I seek to live life and see the beauty even if it’s not necessarily my “ideal.”
I have had an incredibly similar experience just south of you in Kentucky. That being said, I visited northern Ohio frequently for a while and I still tell people about the Amish carriage parking spaces that I saw at the local Walmart. Sometimes, I think its best to try to see the beauty in what we take for granted, because when it is gone we will miss it.
You sound like such a wonderful and kind person. I love the story about the wallet and I love that you can be excited about “saving Christmas!” Alot of people wouldn’t have that same view as I’m sure you know. I also very much like your ending here….to be mindful of all senses and it’s not geography (thinking that is a pretty bold statement from a lover of maps!) but where your heart is! Most enjoyable post!
Hi. Just found your blog and am pleased. Maps, mostly…
Wondering if you’ve discovered any maps that just “knock you off your feet”? I’ve found several in my life. One, a wall sized map of half of the northern hemisphere from which I, as a young man, planned my first world adventure. My workstation was positioned with map to my rear until I re-positioned for better view.
Do you like novels with maps in the theme or plot? Can you recommend any?
Thanks for your words.
My family had a cat, hilariously named “Iris” that became blind at birth due to and STD from her mom. We had to have her eyes removed; but she lived a long 19 years. Watching her learn her surroundings and use her sense definitely taught me to use my senses differently. Great post! Thanks for bringing up some good memories!
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Brilliant. Thank you.
Reblogged this on stuffofmyattention and commented:
Brilliant. From PIGSPITTLE OHIO.
This was brilliant. And touching. How heartwarming to have these people and creatures in your life, and how lucky for them all that they have you too.
A great insight into your part of the world!
Nice post. I too love maps. The paper kind. Yes, google maps is useful and convenient but it’s not the same thing.
Would anyone like to help a community ignored and abandoned in abject poverty?
I have a plan to take a business approach and create jobs instead of the traditional handouts the folks usually get from well intended “foreigners”. Foreigners because they are forgotten by everyone in their country.
Just like in Africa, the warlords prevent humanitarian aid from reaching their own people. I fear my plan may be prevented but I am prepared to bleed my nose and break my teeth to help. Please, Help us. I say us because I was born there. Here is the link if you think you could help. Thank you.
This is so absolutely fantastic. My goodness. Thank you for this!
I love maps too! I love cats as well, so I’m glad you shared that unexpected story about him in there!! I find it interesting how being in the same country people can still be so socially/culturally different.
Love this. Sometimes it’s hard to find things to love about places we ostensibly dislike, or don’t want to be – or even to define a sense of place about somewhere we would rather were just a ‘location’ to us. (Plus I love the kitty. What a beaut 🙂 )
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You surprised me. I had thought you were headed in the political direction, but that just gave readers the context. Lovely story about your ‘found’ kitten. You both are lucky. My little Pomeranian, Domino (seen in my pic) was also a rescue. He was 14 yrs old when I adopted him so that he wouldn’t be euthanized for being old. We had 3 wonderful years together until he developed kidney failure on top of horrific spinal arthritis. Your reaction to your kitten is something we animal lovers can relate to, for, unlike most humans, they give us totally unconditional love.
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“Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true and assured I have gotten either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.”
― René Descartes,
Love this! Featuring it in my blog for Reblog Monday….but since I can’t reblog this I’ll pingback.
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Extraordinary. The final sentence is clanging like a railroad crossing. So completely true. Thanks for a great start to a Monday morning.
How adorable Scout is.