Monday, June 09, 2008

Terrains of the Heart

There are places on earth that mean more than words and pictures can explain. Writer Willie Morris called them "terrains of the heart." They are the points on our personal maps where we find our treasured memories and replenish our souls. For me, that was Tiger Stadium. If you're lucky, you have such a place, too, and perhaps you will understand. - from the Introduction to The Final Season by Tom Stanton

Since reading this passage, I've been trying to come up with my own list of possible "terrains of the heart." I'm not sure what to include because the criteria are a little fuzzy to me. For instance, does the place need to hold eternal value, i.e., my soul is replenished every time I go there, even years later?

I think that it has to do with the company you keep while you're there; that each "terrain of the heart" in its physical, material form has a shelf life. Certainly Stanton wouldn't go to Tiger Stadium today and feel replenished. It's an empty shell now, awaiting demolition. There's no team, no people, no activity. It holds memories, yes, but I imagine that it doesn't do for Stanton today what it used to do for his soul. It's changed too much.

For Stanton, Tiger Stadium before the end of the 1999 season was and is his "terrain of the heart." Today, the physical structure is something else. But the memory can still be something more. That being said, I'd probably name three places of different periods of my life as my own "terrains of the heart:"

Tenafly, New Jersey circa 1988-1992. As I mentioned a few days ago, I spent many summers at my grandparents' house with my cousin growing up. I looked forward to that trip all year. The situation there has grandmother died last year, and my cousin and I have both grown and changed. I still look forward to visiting, but for perhaps different reasons than for what those summers held for me.

Heidelberg College circa 1997-2002. This was certainly a "terrain of the heart" while I was a student, and slightly afterwards while a good deal of friends were still attending, and even to a certain extent while my brother was a student. During my summers I would look forward to returning, to seeing friends and being a part of the campus culture. Now I don't know anyone, save a few active members of my fraternity whom I've met at alumni functions. I'm only truly interested in returning if people I know will be there.

St. Louis, circa 2001-present. I went back and forth about including 2001. That's for another entry. This is my current "terrain of the heart." I was really bummed that I couldn't go back for the annual Herbster event this year and all it would have included: catching up with friends and colleagues, hanging out at our usual haunts, and so on. But as I've alluded, how much of this has to do with the people? Would I be as excited about returning to St. Louis without anyone from my usual group there?

Where are your "terrains of the heart," past or present?