Reflections on Place

Students in this year’s Understanding Place course will be exploring a shared place — the Otter Creek watershed — and a place of their own through several lenses in order to build a toolkit that will allow them to better understand any place. That toolkit will, in turn, allow students to teach others about the importance of understanding place while working towards positive social and environmental change. Below under the “Comments” section of this post you will find ongoing reflections about the place that each student has chosen, written in light of their readings, discussions, and activities from each week.


  1. Savannah Thompson says:

    Savannah Thompson
    Montevallo, Alabama

    1. Savannah Thompson says:

      Montevallo is a small “college town” directly in the heart of Alabama. It is characterized by local art and an atmosphere much more liberal than the state of Alabama as a whole. If you search for the town online, you are likely to find the faces of the trees carved by Tim Tingle in Orr Park. The old cedars in the park would have been cut down if not for this local artist’s transformation.

      Shoal Creek runs through the city, and there are swimming holes hidden in the woods that locals like to enjoy, such as Falling Rock. Ebenezer Swamp is an Ecological Preserve located on Spring Creek that is home to an abundance of plants and animals, among them beavers, turkey, sycamore and Tupelo gum trees, and a rare species of coneflower. It is also a host to classes and research, and features art sculptures made from recycled steel created by the University of Montevallo art program. Both Ebenezer Swamp and Spring Creek are part of the Cahaba River watershed. The Cahaba is the longest free-flowing river in Alabama and an environmental wonder.

      I have lived in Montevallo for three years now and now that it is a very special “place” that is hard for many people to leave. There is a very strong sense of community and a love for that community present. There are many aspects of the ecology and geography that make the town special, but it is the people who KEEP it special.

      1. Savannah Thompson says:

        In looking at Orr Park and the part of Shoal Creek that runs through it as a bioregion, its ecological sustainability results from human attempts to connect others to the area. I am writing specifically about Tim Tingle and the art he has left in the trees of Orr Park and the educational aspects of Ebenezer Swamp. The points from “the story of bioregionalism” in our reading “Interpreting bioregionalism” includes “attraction of an artistic, intellectual and literary vanguard”. This aspect definitely applies to both Orr Park and Ebenezer Swamp. They both encompass art that reflects nature, such as the dragonfly sculptures in the swamp. There is also literature to educate visitors, such as the signs in Ebenezer that teach about everything from plants to water sediment, and books for those who are more interested. I think the human-nature aesthetic allows for both engagement and fosters a connection to these areas, most crucially in younger generations.

        I would consider these areas bioregions in the sense of their waterways, but perhaps the human-defined lines that would only go as far as to define the park or the boardwalk in Ebenezer Swamp as its boundaries. But our actions that affect these areas go far beyond that. And I think that the protection and education of these areas is what is going to allow for bioregionalism to be possible in Montevallo.

      2. Savannah Thompson says:

        Post no. 3

        Reading Virtual Water (Kumar) gave me a new perspective and appreciation for both local and imported products. There are so many resources, such as water, that go into the production of the commodities and food that we buy that are taken for granted. Montevallo is a town in which little is made local. We have a small farmer community that makes local produce successful and contributes to a couple local businesses. There is also a small organic farm funded by the university that provides for low-income families. The area has the potential to contribute to the area much more, offering local, natural food to the region. But this may compromise local waterways. The increase of nitrogen and phosphorous discharges have correlated with increase in croplands in the Birmingham area.

        The Cahaba River is a free-flowing river and a tributary to the Alabama River. It is affected by the urbanized city of Birmingham and its surrounding counties, which include Montevallo. Croplands discharge nutrients into the watersheds, and the addition of nitrogen compounds due to human activity in the Cahaba River has affected its biogeochemistry (Springer). I believe that understanding the impacts that humans have on a respective “place” can allow us to envision ways in which we may bolster sustainability.

        “Water quality modeling of the Cahaba River, Alabama” by Springer (2004).

    2. Savannah Thompson says:

      Post 3: Indigenous peoples and relation to place

      Our reading and discussion of indigenous peoples brings us back to the definition of place, and the notion that humans are a notable aspect of what makes up a place.

      I think it speaks measures that despite the atrocious history of the Abenake peoples and the immensity of what their ancestors went through, they still remain in the same place. The land is what connects and enlightens the Abenake as well as other indigenous peoples.

      There is much to learn from native peoples. Living in the same area and being connected with the land allows people to notice climate change from the landscape rather than science, such as peoples living in the north noting the melting of ice where they fish (, or learning medicinal properties of plants through trial and error as well as from a spiritual experience with the land.

      There is a lack of Native American history in Montevallo. If stories were present that offered a history more inclusive