Jean Langhorne


22 Mar ‘ 23

A sense of belonging

Moving to the West Highlands

Moving to the West Highlands

Two years ago, we moved to the West Highlands, after living in the Central Belt for most of our lives.   Now we live by the sea, in a boggy woodland garden with a mixture of native trees and exotic shrubs, busy with a variety of bird visitors and, most of the time, empty of man-made noise.

In this quiet corner of the West Coast, I have a chance to wander in lush woodlands of Scotland’s temperate rainforest or else along a rocky shoreline, with beautiful views out to the Small Isles.  Most days, I have a chance to go out, to walk slowly and pay attention to the rich variety of more-than-human life, small details of the land and the seascape, noticing the changes on a daily basis and through the seasons.

In the process of getting to know this new place and beginning to feel at home here, I am reflecting on the idea of belonging and the interactions between people and place.  How do we decide where we belong and what is it that makes us feel we do? What influences our sense of place and how does physical activity situate us in the environment?

Amanda Thomson’s recent book “Belonging” explores what it means to live with the land and how places shape us; our behaviour and our perceptions and the people we become. Of course, in coming to know new places, we bring with us the people we already are; how we perceive and interact with the natural world, what we see and what we understand. 

I also think it’s helpful to understand that our sense of place is dependent on what activities we are engaged in.  Last year, I found Bonnie Vandesteeg’s book, “Land for What? Land for Whom?” very helpful in examining this idea:

She explains how different senses of place emerge out of being physically engaged with a variety of different activities; whether recreational, such as walking, climbing, skiing & cycling; or else work-related, such as farming, stalking, game-keeping & grouse-beating. These different ways of interacting with the landscape tend to mean different views and relationship to place that are often contradictory and so we can see how this can lead to disagreement and conflict. It’s also helpful to look at how these different social environments create a sense of place, through reinforcing a set of views and sense of self in relation to other people.

Amanda Thomson describes the process of belonging as noticing the details of place and caring enough to learn about the people and the land; what has been in the past and what is here now.

We know that a place is much more than the sum of its parts; its people, their history, its flora and fauna, the prevailing climate and the interactions between all of these components. I am aware that it may take a long time to come to know and understand each of these different aspects and to see how they all fit into the broader picture.  Already, I’m realising that by participating in this long process of caring about and getting to know this new place in which we now live, I am becoming part of it; part of the community and part of the landscape. I am beginning to understand how this place is now shaping our life and how it shapes the lives of those with whom we share it. Slowly, we begin to feel a sense of belonging.

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