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Genius Loci, The Spirit of the Place

It’s been a few years since I heard poet David Whyte speak about ‘genius loci’, but I’ve not forgotten it. Today, on my walk along the bluffs overlooking the beach, a place I love for its unpopulated expansiveness, the phrase bubbled up again, and I knew it was the perfect topic for this month. ‘Genius loci’ means the presiding spirit of a particular place born from its unique features, landforms, or weather. It can also mean to recognize the cycles, relationships, beauty, and mystery of a place. I imagine that the spirit of the place is not limited, but can and does expand in all directions, inviting us to do so too. It’s been nineteen years since our family moved into this house. The former owners loved the place, you could tell, but they were older and had kept the yard to a manageable level. Even though the stark style didn’t feel right to me, I did appreciate how the wind, sun, moon, and rain did their thing without interference. It was wide open and full of possibilities. But where to start and how to let the land know we were here to build something together? At some point, I stood outside and asked two questions out loud, “May I know you? May I be known?” Then I spent time with the place and waited because while the land seems fine on her own, she does thrive when we love her. And love can express itself in different ways from attentive tending to keeping a respectful distance. I waited for signs of all types to help me strengthen my intuitive abilities so that I could respond and nurture the place in a good way. Year after year we added plants and trees and learned how to bring the soil to life from a sandy substance to earthworm rich humus. A lot of things failed, but many blossomed. I dug my hands in the soil, learned the names of plants, pampered seeds, and harvested flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Birds, insects, lizards, snakes, frogs, skunks, raccoons, and all kinds of wildlife spent time here. We’ve left our mark too. The kids grew up and we grew older. We even buried our four-legged family members under the cedar tree. A lot has lived and died here.

The time has come to sell the house, which means I’m grappling with how to say goodbye to the spirit of the place and it's possible that the land is grappling with it too. When I recently read this line in Toko-pa Turner’s book Belonging, “ we remember it, it remembers us,” I thought - yes, how wonderful to think of memories as two-way experiences. So to ease this separation and to make one lasting memory, I’ve created seven handmade art pieces from petals of the jacaranda tree, princess flowers, sweet scabious, and sunflowers. I used the leaves and needles from narrow sword fern, Lawson's cypress, white sage, strawberry madrone, and fairy iris. Each simple design came to me as I stood near the plant and received inspiration. Then I wove, sewed, or threaded pieces together as a ceremony to offer back in gratitude. This exchange, helps me acknowledge the unseen, the ‘genius loci’, and give thanks for what has taught, fed, and healed me. This is reciprocity and it is extended to all that is living here and reaching beyond my own understanding.

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