I am not sure I will be able again to look at a cold frame without thinking about this wonderful picture by Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) of his home and studio at Sandalstrand in Norway. It embodies a willingness to find a place, build a future and a hope within a certain landscape whose meaning and power sustains you. And such was Astrup’s life on the shores of a Norwegian fjord, amongst his gardening, painting, printing, ever-increasing family and his rhubarb, which he loved to cultivate and of which he bred new varietals.
He embodied, perhaps, the poet Gary Snyder’s advice, to
Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.
This advice was borne out by Snyder himself, in the purchase and development of his property, Kitkitdizze, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, from 1967 until the present day, and which he developed in community with others, over the following 45 years. It was mirrored by Wendell Berry’s “place-finding” at Lane’s Landing in Port Royal, Kentucky, from 1965 (Mary Berry celebrates 50 years of her parents’ living there here). The correspondence between them, which I mentioned in an earlier post, and which is celebrated in this long conversation, is partly rooted in the fact that both men have their own place to tend to, their own agricultural, construction, familial and community concerns. This gives the correspondence between them an authority exactly matched by the authority that Astrup had as a painter.
I find this sense of place so important. As unsettled as we have found life in this particular city, the home place, the physical house where we live, has been a place of joy and growth, of development and of peace. I have learnt (better) to garden; I have learnt to improve a house and to regard its improvement as a proper and legitimate concern. How often, though, do we fail to articulate this, especially for children? I know I have mentioned this before as a vital part of our educating our children, to possess a deep sense of place that both informs their identity but also governs their actions and their responsibility to a particular community.
It is a commonplace to bemoan the rush and intensity of modern life, but we have the life we have as a result of the choices we make, and some of those choices are about speed and pace. In Snyder’s words:
Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually existing world and its wholeness.
For those who can, one of the things to do is not to move. To stay put. That doesn’t mean don’t travel; it means have a place and get involved in what can be done in that place. That’s the only way we’re going to have a representative democracy in America. Nobody stays anywhere long enough to take responsibility for a local community.
Like most Italians, Malaguzzi was deeply rooted in his territorio, in particular his beloved Reggio Emilia to which he devoted most of his life. He was a Reggiano and proud of it. Yet this intense local identification and loyalty did not make him parochial. He may have been rooted in a particular culture, but the values and political orientation of that culture were shared with many other comuni and he was in constant and vigorous relationship with the wider world….This temporal and spatial context must have had a powerful effect on Malaguzzi and his approach to education…