Location, Location, Location

The Fishlake National Forest in Utah contains the world’s most largest living organism: A 107-acre plot of 47,000 genetically identical Pando aspen trees. All part of a single root system, the Pando trees are estimated to weigh 13 million pounds in total. I started to appreciate this fact more and more when thinking about community. Despite our culture’s effort to hide our birthing process from Nature with sterile maternity wards, humans spring forth from the earth like these trees. And up until the past century, humans typically were raised on the earth they were borne upon.

As fleshy extensions of the earth below one’s feet, we are raised not just by parents but by Nature, whose natural properties remind us that we are not above it by recognizing the inescapability of gravity, shitting, and death. Thus, when we give up the pretensions of being sheltered from Nature, we can be more open to the fact that, just as we are what we eat, we are where we live. For millions of years, we embodied our location: If there was fish in the river, you ate fish and developed a culture around its nutritional preparation and spiritual symbology. If bears were nearby, you internalized the hazards of predatorial beasts, but also the magnificence of Nature’s larger-than-life creations. Live next to a mountain, and you know you are part of a mountain people, but also know that the mountain is an extension of yourself.

While I mentioned that the story is the most important ingredient for community, a community’s story used to be solely birthed from location. Now, our global society can defeat all the bears, eat fish from thousands of miles away, and visit mountains on a whim. Thus location in these days functions more like a fashion statement than a fundamental part of your existence. However, as I said before: While our global culture considers location to be choice-driven, we are still a product of location, because location breeds necessity.

For example, even though the city has the means to gobble up anything from around the world, economies of geography still apply: In the Midwest, crab will be less available, so people won’t develop a particular food culture around it. In the suburbs of California, water is increasingly rationed out, so your house and lifestyle must adapt accordingly. Cities absorb a lot more heat from the sun, creating a weather system unique to surrounding areas, so people may wear different clothes from those just twenty miles away. As our society attempts to homogenize the human experience, these geographically-derived cultural differences look to be more and more, but they do indeed exist because of the realities of Nature. Community can exist despite our attempted turns from Nature because it still breeds the necessity of difference: The Californian suburbanite is having a different urban experience than the New Yorker and the Chicagoan because their interactions with Nature subtly but effectively different.

Whether human-made or natural, our physical location has been the primary means toward the grouping of people who often develop and share a story to enact.