Sense of place is the theme for this year's Princeton Environmental Film Festival, which begins its three weekend stand at the public library this Thursday. In adapting that theme to my presentation about the mathematician/visionary/outdoorsman Oswald Veblen, on the last day of the festival, I followed a trail of thoughts that led surprisingly to my birthplace near Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. The thoughts took this cross-country route:
The houses that often come with preserved land, then, do not necessarily detract from the natural setting but instead provide landmarks--a sense of place, a feeling of departure and return. Historical structures add even more to a natural area, endowing a spot with a story and an added dimension of time.
The opposite of this, a spot with no sense of place, no stories to tell, might be a deep, flat woodland without any boulders, streams or other features to distinguish one direction from another.
The tree in the old photo is shown in a wikipedia post describing a series of trail trees that once led north from what is now Illinois up to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, which happens to be where I grew up.
Another photo on that webpage showed a trail tree in Traverse City, Michigan, close to Camp Innisfree, where I first developed an interest in learning wildflowers. Whether this trail tree still survives, it's still doing its job, helping navigate to places of great meaning in the deep forest of memory.