The Heart of Home #1: Spatial (Geographic) Scale

Today, I find myself sitting in shirtsleeves on my back steps where the rays of a strong noontime sun warm my skin and dance across undulating snowdrifts that cloak my garden. Tomorrow, we expect a blizzard. In this moment, I am able to bask with closed eyes in what is for me the center of my neighborhood. I have a strong sense of belonging here. It is where I nurture what I think of as the first circle of my life, my own health and that of my family, and where I practice what seems like unbounded stewardship for my yard, which is such a tiny piece of the planet.

From this spot, I cast a series of mental loops out across the landscape. Each one encompasses more area, a larger portion of land and community surrounding me. I wonder to myself, “What are the boundaries of what I call home?” As my sense of home place becomes larger, I include all of nearby Lake Wingra and its watershed, including the walking routes, trees, and open areas that are part of my extended family. As my boundary grows, I include places in the city that I frequent, the good friends and colleagues that draw me there, and the habitats that are home to the great diversity of plants and animals of our region, and it’s not long before my awareness extends into the farthest reaches of the Yahara Watershed, nested with the larger the Mississippi River watershed, and beyond. I push myself to cast my mental loops out to match the distances that my personal travels have taken me – eventually South American rainforests and Irish stone circles fall briefly within my definition of home. I marvel that I am able to contract and expand my image of home place to satisfy the curiosities of the moment.

I am relating here to spatial scale – the geographic area of a community or ecosystem and therefore, the boundaries we might use to think about home place. In the mind of an ecologist, spatial scale can range from a tiny site such as the microscopic world on the underside of a leaf on the forest floor, to an entire forest, to the larger regional landscape that includes the forest. The biosphere (i.e, the living planet Earth) might be thought of as maximum spatial scale, at least for life as we know it.

Take a moment to come into the heart space of your own center and the center of your home place. What are the dimensions of home place in this moment? What is the size and shape of the place on Earth where you are able to easily connect with plants, animals, and your human community?

Adapted from Cycles of Seasons, Sense of Place by Anne Forbes of Partners in Place in The Yahara Watershed Journal, Vol. 2, 1997. Used with permission.

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