Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sense of Place Contest

I’ve been so busy since getting back home last weekend. I have stories to tell and book reviews to write (at the very least, I"ll write reviews for The Journey of Crazy Horse and Sentimental, Brokenhearted Rednecks). But I’m so tired by the end of the day. I’ve been in meetings every night this week—tonight I was at a contentious school board meeting, last night I was with construction managers and the meeting dragged on to nearly 10 o’clock. Needless to say, I’ve not had a lot of time to write or even do the 3WW… But I really want to win an autograph copy of Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound (which comes highly recommended, so I am going to again enter Maggie’s “sense of place” contest). The rules are to pick a passage out of book that qualifies for the Southern Reading Challenge and then choose a picture that illustrates it. This was an easy assignment as I’ve just returned from my parent’s, and while there I took a lot of photographs of longleaf pines. I’m posting to two pictures to illustrate two quotes from Janisse Ray’s book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. The first shot shows the crown of the trees (and if you look closely you’ll see a large number of green cones on them). The second shows the trees thick bark along with a scar on a tree. It’s not unusual to see these scars long after the trees were tapped for turpentine (this tree was probably tapped 75 years ago).

"The trees grow spaced so far apart in pine savannas, sunshine bathing the ground, that you can see forever; they are much grassland as forest. The limbs of longleaf pine are gray and scaly and drape as the trees matures, and its needles are very long, up to seventeen inches, like a piano player’s fingers, and held upright at ends of the limbs, like a bride holds her bouquet. In 1791, naturalist and explorer William Bartram, in his Travels, called the Southern pinelands a “vast forest of the most stately pine trees that can be imagined.” (page 66)

"Pine plantations dishearten God. In them he aches for blooming things, and he misses the sun trickling through the tree crowns, and he pines for the crawling, spotted, scale-backed, bushy-tailed, leaf-hopping, chattering creatures. Most of all he misses the bright-winged, singing beings he cast as angels…. "(page 125)

In this last quote, Ray refers to the pine plantations (normally of loblolly or slash pine) that have replaced nearly 98% of the longleaf pine in the Southeast. The longleaf cannot survive a clear-cut, and when trees are cut, “tree-farmers” often replace them with other types of pines, with different bark and a thicker canopy. This replacement of pince has caused a loss of habitat for birds that like to nest within the bark and cavities of the longleaf pines as well as animals and plants that flourish under the thinly veiled canopy of the longleaf.


  1. Job well done, Sage! Now go to sleep. No staying up late with the laptop. You need your Zzzzzz.

  2. "A Sense Of Place"

    Man, there's a topic which should spawn a lot of posts -- in our copious free time, of course.

    IMHO, Southern writers tap into that "sense" more than others. I've often thought about that, but it seems to me that they feel it more than others. They can write about things that "Yankees" and westerners just don't understand, but which cause those of us who grew up in a more "Southern" culture to merely knod our heads knowingling.

    Thanks for keeping me up longer than I should.



  3. Maggie, I went to bed right after posting this!

    Sherman, I mostly agree with you, but I do find a strong "sense of place" in many western writers--especially the voices from the plains and desert. As for me personally, I battle a desire for the grounded sense of place in my life verses being the pilgrim, the wanderer (as seen by me moving all around the country). Hope you got some zzz's!

  4. What lovely description! Sage I think you would LOVE this book called A Natural History of Western Trees by Donald Culross Peattie.

    I find it hard to write about the places in which I'm presently living. It's so much easier to write about them after they become memories. For some reason, I have trouble SEEING what's around me, and it's only in retrospect that I can sort out what's really made an impression. But a clear sense of place is essential to a good, round story.

    I read one short story called "St. Martin" that's really about a sense of place (or at least, that's how I read it). That is, the place is the main character. Things happen in the story, but all events seem to stem from the place itself & its character. It's by my favorite writer in the world, Lydia Davis.

  5. Diane, thanks!

    Ing, I've not read Peattie's book, but since I've seem to have developed an interest in the natural history of trees (at least longleaf and bristlecone pines--both of which I've read a natural history of), I should check it out. I've read one collection of Davis' short stories--a couple years ago.

    Ing2: Wow, there's a lot of downloads there. Listening to "Jack in the Country," I remember that she often writes very short, short stories... As for keeping all the Jacks straight, maybe she needs a box :)

  6. I'm a Yankee but Southern literature has always spoken to me. Really what little kid didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird? And that was just the beginning

    My expectations of the South are so grounded in literature that I probably should move inland but I need the ocean

    The Pines here are beautiful and I so love the topography and am getting to know it at all seasons

    Thanks Sage for making me think. Get rested!

  7. Pia, to really get to know your place, I'd love to have a chance to introduce you to the Waccamaw River--it's a wonderful paddle not far from you, that begins at Lake Waccamaw and flows down into SC (and at Crusoe Island, you'll get to see some unique people--maybe I should blog about it)

  8. Great photos - reminds me of living in FL and so different from the pine forests up here in Maine.