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Perhaps the most radical act we can commit is to stay home. 

—Terry Tempest Williams  

One of the great challenges we face when contemplating successful placemaking is the restlessness that we experience as a culture. Many friends, family members and colleagues have shifting senses of what defines “home” and I’ve heard from many who have recently returned from travel exhausted—myself included. Part of the expectation that we live with around newness keeps us on the move—in our lives, between homes, from relationship to relationship. 

What does it mean to stay put? How can we experience the comfort emanating from the final lines of Wendell Berry’s poem On the Hill Late At Night and not shrink from its power?                

 I am wholly willing to be here

between the bright silent thousands of stars

and the life of the grass pouring out of the ground.

The hill has grown to me like a foot.

Until I lift the earth I cannot move. 

In so many instances, we see such an experience as confining—with a place, in a job, with another person. And yet, there is great strength and tremendous wisdom in slowing down and staying put. As Pablo Neruda counsels “let’s stop for a second/and not move our arms so much”. If we are able to do this, the radical quality of Terry Tempest’s quote above becomes clear. There is clarity in commitment, in slowing down and being in a place; And in the realization that this is not only environmentally and socially more sustainable, but healthier on an individual level as well. 

We can take small steps toward staying put on a daily basis by taking a break during our workday and stepping away from the computer or out of the office. By connecting with the place we find ourselves, even when we are away from home. And in many cases, by acknowledging that perhaps we have been in a process of cultivating many homes and that many places are meaningful for us. Lucy Lippard’s book The Lure of the Local offers an exploration of “sense of place in a multi-centered society”. We may have family, friends and colleagues around the country and around the world, but we can also pay attention to what it is that we are trying to move toward or away from in cultivating our own sense of place. Staying put is often a challenge in our culture, and we have so much to learn in taking some time to focus on what impact this has in our lives.   

October 2005