A Sense of Place

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Dead Horse Point State Park, UT (credit: Christina Williamson)

Moving to new cities, or often new countries, is almost part of the job for many in research and academia. With frequent moves, lots of travel for work and devoting a lot of one’s time and energy to work, it is easy to feel a little disconnected from the places and societies in which we live.

My latest move was from Geneva, Switzerland out to Boulder, Colorado. It has been a very easy transition, since I quickly fell in with a wonderful group of friends at NOAA, where I work, and Boulder is a very friendly town where it’s easy to meet people and feel part of the place. On top of that, I love to spend my free time hiking, skiing and camping in the mountains, and I have plenty of opportunities to do that here. It quickly began to feel like home for me, but of course, there are levels on which one can connect with a place.

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO (credit: Christina Williamson)

 

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Arches National Park, UT (credit: Christina Williamson)

I recently took a week’s vacation to road-trip around my adopted home state of Colorado and neighboring Utah with a friend who came to visit from the UK, where I grew up. There were so many places, just that little bit too far from Boulder for a weekend trip, that I’d heard about and wanted to see. Immersing myself in the spectacular nature of the mountains and deserts for a week, doing a lot of hiking and taking some time to relax was obviously great, but an unexpected bonus was that I felt I was gaining a deeper connection with the place in which I’m living.

I had the opportunity to appreciate the scale and variety of the geographic features of the region  – from high alpine environments, to harsh deserts and gaping canyons. I experienced more of the society here, from tiny villages in out-of the way valleys with little more than a couple of houses and a general store, to the charm of mountain-mecca’s like Telluride, and the faded splendor of some of the larger towns that boomed during the gold rush. I learned a bit more about some of this region’s more recent history and what formed it into the way it is today, and I gave it more of my attention than is possible on a quick weekend get-away. My fondness for my adopted home has grown with my knowledge and experience of it and I feel I’ve gained more of a sense of place and a deeper sense of belonging here.

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Fall colours at the ghost town of St Elmo, CO (credit: Christina Williamson)

Feeling grounded in my adopted home like this is important to me. If I felt my only connection to a place, my only reason to be there were my work, that would make my overall happiness very tightly connected to how my work was going. My work is always going to be connected strongly to my happiness, just because of who I am and what I value, but with connections to the culture, the people, the landscapes here I have a buffer – work is not the only thing in my daily interactions affecting my emotions. And that gives me more power to keep a little detachment when things go wrong, and to take chances on ideas that perhaps have a higher risk of failure. Myself and my life here in Colorado, aren’t completely defined by the work I’ve come here to do, and that, I feel, gives me the freedom to do the work a little better.

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