Do you notice that you take where you live for granted? That something extraordinary must happen, for you to pay attention to what’s around you? Either a visitor from out of town (we have an exchange student from Italy spending two weeks with us) or a different view of the same place (I went up on the roof at Castle Hill during last week’s concert with some young people).
I’m not claiming that every single acre or square inch of land that humans occupy (or don’t inhabit) is exceptional or memorable. I know that much of it is mundane, or only made wondrous by our experiences and their sentimental attachment to the places in which they occur. And yet, often there are remarkable resources and sites nearby.
Ipswich happens to be bursting with such treasures. Several Trustees of Reservations properties, including Crane Estate (Castle Hill and Crane Beach), Appleton Farms and more. We have a tidal river (Ipswich River) which wends its way from fresh water origins upriver, over dams, under bridges, through salt marsh wetlands out into the bay and ocean. The landscape of Ipswich includes village center, business district, historical structures (more pre-revolutionary war homes and buildings than any other town in the United States), pastoral and farm settings, wetlands that are part of the “Great Marsh,” proximity to a barrier island called Plum Island that’s an Audubon bird sanctuary, deep water anchorage, miles of white sand beach, and so much else.
Yet if you live in some areas, you’re surrounded by pavement. Bricks and concrete. Aluminum siding. This isn’t inherently bad. Often artists, for instance, make us look twice at the places we have stopped noticing, because they’re not innately “inspiring” to us. The painter Edward Hopper, for instance, is one artist in a 20th century movement that caused people to look anew at their own surroundings.
Yes, even our most ordinary landscape can be special. Did you count cracks in the sidewalk as a child? Isn’t that sidewalk special now because of the memories you made back then, watching the grass grow up between the slabs of concrete? Doesn’t that paved space hold, for you, the imprint of the games of hopscotch and foursquare you drew in chalk? Or the snap and pungency of tar bubbles you popped with bare feet on the street in the summer? Or the blades of grass you plucked from their weedy roots and tried to use to whistle? Or the whir of cicada’s wings in the extreme heat, rising and falling with the speed of their wingbeats? You stop hearing those sounds, they become background stimuli … white noise. Yet they’re there. And if you suddenly stop and pay attention, they’re remarkable in their way.
I’m lucky to live here. And although our landscapes may vary, many contain magic in them. Inherently, because they are beautiful in their origins and their current state. And also because we carry their potential inside us, and bring it to any place we call home, when we pause and look twice, listen again … pay attention.
Maybe because we have a guest in the house, or I’m looking anew at the world just now, while Sarah’s preparing to leave for her adventures … in this moment I can see and honor that.