How it starts: when I was four years old my family moved to the last house on a dead end street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our road would have linked to the mansions of Tory Row but instead ended at a small chunk of undeveloped land once part of a larger estate. This vacant lot, by some fate of bylaws, could not be developed and so these beautiful few acres of meadow, old fruit trees, hawthorns, and spruce sat wild and calm in the heart of the city. Our small back yard was separated from this wildness by a low chain link fence, the links of which were spaced perfectly for a small child’s shoe.
I try to remember what year it must have been when I first put toe into chain and hopped the fence. It must have been with some effort, hand over hand, arms shaking, gingerly straddling the piping before making the small drop onto the soil. I can’t imagine my mother allowing me to make this jump, let alone having the agility to have done it in my first few years of life but at roughly the age of seven I made the leap.
The Lot was a wonder of nature tinged with humanity, enough to make it hauntingly fun, forbidden, and secretive. Its owner, an architect left enormous hunks of granite and polished marble pillars stacked in the corner, like a whale's rib cage, the reminisce of some strange building project left unfinished. There were old light fixtures without lights, preexisting paths, and patches of non-native plants that alluded to a lush garden past: crocus, blue bells, day lilies, and rhododendron. No one used the field but for an annual mowing, an older neighbor and his arthritic dog, and on occasion a homeless man. It was for the most part, mine.
I ran the lot like part Robinson Crusoe, part mountain ranger. I tunneled mazes in the tall grass and hid from goblins in winter snow caves. I rode my bike, shot homemade arrows, climbed apple trees, and buried pets. I took friends there, but more often than not hopped the fence alone and listened to the click of bats while chewing a leaf of mint that grew everywhere. I started to map its paths and to record the bird species I saw, which came to ninety before I left home. Overtime, I moved from a childhood romance to an adolescent relationship. I studied the wildflowers and trees, knew where the rabbits burrowed and the Carolina wrens fed. It was a natural coming of age in the middle of Cambridge on some small chunk of land that grounded me in a love of natural history, the outdoors, and the very idea of place.
Though I strayed from the sciences for the humanities I never did shake this fascination with place and my academic path reflects it. I pursued creative writing with a B.A. in English from Western Washington University and after taking my first museum job at the Anacortes History Museum I launched into a self-designed Master program at Lesley University focusing on museum education and place-based learning. Since then I have worked in a diversity of museums including art, science and nature as well as with environmental and conservation organizations. In these various roles I've managed public and school program with a goal of increasing visitation, I have created and led teacher professional development, and built innovative community partnerships. Along with K-12 classroom teaching experience I have led natural history trips for adults focusing on my first love, birds.
My love for place is an amalgamation of all these parts: bird watching, and travel, local history, the arts and creative writing. These were all attempts to understand place. As humans we are at once a product of our place, constantly being changed by where we live and visit and, in turn, altering these places with our very presence. The idea of place-based studies or a sense of place can be found in almost all academic departments including literature, art, music, biology, sociology, architecture, urban planning, education, and cartography.
The connection between place and people has been defined, studied, and qualified in many ways by many fields. Writers and artists call it “regionalism,” historians call it “local history,” urban planners call it “psychological geography," and in science it's known as "ecology” literally the study of home. Key ecological concepts like bioregions and watersheds define geography by connected living organisms or water. Like ecology, my passion for place crosses and connects many disciplines and so it is that I work to record and communicate the wonderful, powerful, and fragile magic of the places we live.