I’ve always been drawn to narratives that present a strong sense of place. In Wuthering Heights, for example, Brontë writes the windswept moor as not only a setting, but a type of player in the story. While developing the characters of Heathcliff and Catherine as children growing up in that wild landscape, Brontë links the descriptive language of the moor to their own wildness, and careful readers will notice nature motifs developed throughout the novel, connecting the children (both first and second generations) with the place in which they grow.
Possibly one reason this appeals to me is because I moved quite often throughout my upbringing, living ultimately in five cities, two states, and two countries before I graduated high school. While the frequent moving certainly ignited my adventurous spirit, and the gift of close family kept me lovingly grounded, I must admit that I never felt fully connected with my surroundings.
And this is likely why I now work to develop a sense of place in my girls—a knowledge of their roots—of who they are and where they’re from.
Back when I was in the classroom, my British Literature curriculum began with the theme of place. Before we dove into the specifics of Great Britain and the British Empire, we talked about our own sense of place, and I assigned a simple project: the “Where I Am From” poem.
When reading through this month’s lovely roots-themed Wild + Free magazine, I was reminded of this former assignment and of the fact that I had wanted to attempt it with my daughters someday.
So, this week, we did just that.
It’s a lovely exercise, and I highly recommend it! The concept was first inspired by George Ella Lyon’s original poem, which you can find here. When writing our poems, we used this template, but of course, a template isn’t necessary (and there is no need for it to be formulaic). Ellie preferred the template, since she’s still young, and considering that I was writing mine as an example for her, I decided to use it as well. We wrote her poem together; she gave me the ideas and words, and I helped her tweak them as I transcribed. We had so much fun throughout the process, laughing as she mentioned silly things, and getting excited when we nailed down the “perfect” wording. And then that evening, we proudly read the finished product to the rest of the family.
Here is what we came up with, our “Where I Am From” poems:
“Where I Am From”
by: Calli Birch
I am from smocked dresses,
from egg custard and Blue Bell in vintage cups.
I am from the warmth of metal floor vents
thawing my toes on winter mornings.
I am from the magnolia blossom,
from pine trees,
their canopy over me,
a world of imagination and wonder.
I’m from sewing machines and stethoscopes,
from Lawanda and Malcolm and King Durwood.
From bootstrap pull’n pioneers,
from public school teachers
and American dreamers.
I’m from “Sing and Be Happy”
and “God so loved the world”
and true love waits.
I’m from Nacogdoches and Henderson,
Abilene and Guatemala,
tortilla chips and pot-luck casseroles.
From Papa’s pipe smoke
and blackberry picked
from the vine,
its fruit purple on my lips.
The summer I turned sixteen,
Grandma brought out a box
full of sepia still lives.
Faded images of serious men
and strong women,
the stock from which I sprouted,
and somehow a small part of me.
“Where I Am From”
by: Ellie Birch
I am from my Olivia doll,
from cereal bars and berry crumble.
I am from the blank piece of paper
that lays on my desk.
I am from the pine trees,
the small beach at the lake
where I saw the double rainbow.
I’m from readalouds and nature hikes,
From Deedee and Papa, Mizzie and Big Daddy.
I’m from writers and professors
and from coffee drinkers.
I’m from “go play outside”
And “I love you a bushel and a peck.”
I’m from coloring advent ornaments.
I’m from Dallas and Ukraine,
Dad’s famous curry and Mom’s guacamole.
From Papa getting stuck in the mud as a boy,
and my little sister “panty girl.”
On the bottom shelf,
my captured memories sit bound
in small books
that I love to look at
with my sister.