One month has passed since my one year anniversary of living in the Pacific Northwest. Finally, the dust has somewhat settled and my homesick heart has reached a sort of peace with what is. Meanwhile, being and living in this land has brought certain ideas to the forefront for me that have been cooking in my mind this passed year.
Namely, the spirits of place. I am very much of the belief that place orients and shapes the self. It is a seamless interaction and exchange that goes mostly unnoticed in our regular lives. When I first moved to Puerto Rico, a tropical and fiery island in the Caribbean, I was shocked by the difference, coming from a relatively small town. It was a culture shock that reverberated for years. At that point in my life, I didn’t know how to articulate my feelings of orientation within the new place that was both alien and recognizable. I recognized the parts in me that awakened to the island, while I also recognized the parts in me that were put off by the stark polarity. A clash of differences.
It took years of work, adjustment, and perseverance to finally understand the place, the spirits of the place, and come to terms with what that meant to me. Admittedly, the echoes of the experience still plague my mind, all the particularities of the island and life as it is lived there.
I recall, during my studies, one of the first Spanish historians to document the life, culture and history of the island, Fray Iñigo Abbad, and what he had to say about the island and its people. One of the points in his narrative that stood out for me was the bacchanalian spirit that reigned among the islanders. Stories of celebrations that would last many days, where people would travel long distances to meet at the place where the celebration was taking place. According to Fray Iñigo’s narrative, the natives of Puerto Rico, which are of mixed descent, had a certain quality of laxity that bordered on laziness. Obviously, this is an outsider judging from his particular position (of power, perspective, and place). The islander was industrious in a way that didn’t fall under the categorizations of this historian at that particular time. I digress.
What I want to get at with this is that each place exerts a presence (singular and plural) upon the individual. As the individual interacts with the place, there is an exchange that ensues wherein the individual is altered, even if minutely. This is what struck me upon arriving in Puerto Rico, the bacchanalian and lackadaisical spirits, bordering on frenetic, that reigned over the place. In retrospect, these spirits ensnared my heart and I know I changed through the experience.
Now living in this starkly different place, the Pacific Northwest, there is a different air (spirits), that predominates here. I have spent this past year trying to place myself within this panorama and orient my self within this place. Thinking about the self and the place this self inhabits is an interesting exercise, it is a way of heightening awareness and acclimatizing yourself within the space you occupy. In this case, I am orienting myself to a new space. As I do this, I maintain the moment, I hold the moment in the palm of my hand and in turn this helps to attune my awareness to what is, not what one fancies, desires, dreams, but what is.
Following this line, I have been working with the idea of place and spirits, especially in relation to my life, my craft, what I do, my daily or weekly workings, my writing, and my -mantic (divinatory) activities. I am seeing that what unfolds and is refined through being in the moment, to holding what is, the present, is the art of seeing.
Before ending this piece, I want to ask the cards about this matter of place, spirits, and the self.
The key to unfolding the interaction between self and place and spirits is through awareness of the transitory, of change, keeping yourself bare and heightened to the experience of the moment. The spirits of place are still, as what they are, genius loci. But the self is movement, a creation of meaning in the light of what is present.