The photo above is of my family on a beach near a house that my wife and I lived in before we were married and for a while briefly after. I spent hours on this beach walking my dog, running, just, sitting. Hours. It has always held a special place in my geographic heart. It was a very different time. We had no children yet, radically different jobs.
Recently when we visited and I took this picture I was struck with how powerful my attachment to the place was and how the photo itself seemed to say so much. Pretty much everything that has happened since living there could be considered encapsulated in it.
I then started thinking about why it is that places manifest such feelings and emotions in our memories and brains. They are after all just places. In this case water, rocks, sand. Impermanent. To another person, it would just be a beach, and not necessarily a very inviting one, yet whenever I’m in town, I make an effort to go back and visit, and just sit and absorb some sort of power I feel from the place.
I don’t think it’s the place that is generating the power though, it’s merely a milestone or a reminder of a place in time. I have friends, a couple, that I often debate music with. We talk about songs that used to hold such power over us and yet when we hear them now, they just don’t seem really, well, all that good. We laugh and wonder, was our taste in music really that bad? The songs still touch a certain nerve in our memories and we can’t easily dismiss them.
“Place and time,” they like to say to me, “place and time.” Meaning that the song isn’t necessarily what is so great, but the memories that it evoke are. The song was great at the time, and hearing it again resurrects that, often quite vividly.
When I visit this beach, or indeed, the small town nearby, or the subdivision we lived in I certainly feel that, but I’m realizing that the place is in most ways immaterial, and what holds the power is the feelings and memories that it conjures.