Understanding Place Week 5: Cultural views of place

This week we have discussed multiple cultural views of place, and how recognizing those views can help us care for places, and in turn, work towards positive social and environmental change. Students of the Understanding Place class should post a comment here reflecting on the importance of cultural lenses in their understanding of that place.


  1. zoe zeerip says:

    When I think about the shores of Lake Michigan and the region of Stony Lake I immediately think about the contrasting cultures that come from the tourist community and those who live there year round. The tourist come to swim the great blue waters, eat the strawberry pie, build fires on the beaches, and run along the sandy shores. The locals are there to make a living off the land, enjoy the quiet landscapes, walk amongst the woods in peace, and take in Lake Michigan’s beauty. Both groups love the region for what it offers, but both groups see different value in the land.

    If comparing these two groups to a different time period, the tourist would be the French colonizers of America and the locals would be the Native Americans. One point from the Trombulack reading that stuck out to me, what the fact that the Native Americans couldn’t compete with the French traders and so they had to start selling their items and land to the French in-order to survive. I have seen some of this taking place in Stony Creek. Many of the locals now make a living off the summer tourist boom. They have turned land into campgrounds and family farms now have farm stands.

    The severity of tension that took place between the Native Americans and the French is not comparable to the tourist and locals at Stony Creek. What is taking place at Stony Creek is too small a have devastating effects for now.

    The tourist of Stony Lake do not often come from far away like you see in other popular vacation spots. This means, that for the most part, the tourist are respectful of the beach rules and don’t create a scene with their presence. Now you have an exception to this as the younger generations like to get rowdy and have parties on the beach. This had led to the policy swinging through the parking lot once a night at sunset. Because the tourist don’t get to call this land their home I imagine they see this creek and beach as a hidden gem that is highly prized and they are lucky to know about it.

    The locals on the other hand may see the land as just another pretty place along Lake Michigan. They get to see it every day and enjoy the sunsets with regularity. For them Stony Creek is a place to live with nice features.

    These two types of people have a unifing appecriation for the area, but each for their own reasons. As the popularity grows, time will tell if they keep the respect they have for each other.

  2. Elissa Edmunds says:

    Camp Nahshii has an interesting history that encompasses the importance of cultural lenses in my understanding of that place. The land that Camp Nahshii now sits on was originally owned by the chief of Beaver, which is a village in the Yukon Flats. After the organization that I worked for and the chief developed a relationship, the chief offered for the organization to own the land to have a suicide prevention camp for Native Alaskan youth in the Yukon Flats there. The organization I worked for ended up buying the land, but were thankful for the generous offer of the chief. There were strong relationships built between the organization and the villages, which helped to develop trust, respect, and care for one another.

    There is a long history between Christian missionaries and Native people. Historically, Christians have entered spaces, and stripped Native people of all their culture, rights, and land. They were abused, relocated, and exploited because of missionaries. The organization that I worked for is a Christian organization, so there had to be a foundation of trust and love for those relationships between the organization and the villages to be built. There are many Alaskan Native people who work for the organization as well, which helped to further develop trust. The two cultures of Christian people and Native Alaskans were able to collectively reconcile the past to provide a resource for the youth of today. Furthermore, the organization works alongside the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge to teach the youth about the land. The youth that come to the camp are also taught about their cultures and skills within those cultures. Two different cultures came together to provide a resource for youth to not only be rooted in their ancestry and their traditions, but to also experience a spirituality and healing that their Native leaders wanted them to be a part of. Camp Nahshii is a place that is based entirely from cultural lenses, and shows how two different cultures who have a rough past were able to work together for something they both wanted. Both cultures had the same idea for that land, and built it together.

    Working with the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, there are aspects of conservation and protection of the land that is used for Camp Nahshii. The land is not being exploited or mistreated, and is only used in the summer time, so the wildlife roams free all year round (even when people are around). Native culture is represented through the infrastructure, including gathering areas, and training on Native customs, like fishing and building. The Christian culture is represented in many ways, because the camp is a Christian camp. Furthermore, the heads of villages decide if their children will go there, so the villages want their children to come to the camp. The spirituality, the appreciation of nature, and working towards loving yourself within your own culture and identity represents what the camp is about. I understand my place better because of all the different cultures coming together to protect and love an area, while also uplifting Native Alaskan Youth and equipping them with skills of their own culture, and spirituality and healing through Christianity.

  3. Rayna Berger says:

    Today, Asheville’s economy is largely stimulated by tourism from the Biltmore Estate. Before George Vanderbilt built his 250 room chateau in 1889, the land of the Estate had been inhabited by the indigenous for 10,000 years. This past spring I took an archaeology class with professor David Moore who has “discovered”, more like brought to attention, many Native American communities around Asheville. In 1984, David Moore discovered a mound on the property of the Biltmore Estate dating back to 200-500 AD consisting of pottery, arrowheads and points, and traded copper from the Ohio River Valley.

    Indigenous presence in Asheville is not always a part of the general public’s knowledge. In the Swannanoa Valley where my school resides, there is an archaeology site with an information sign educating the public of the history of that exact spot. Just a 5 minute walk from the heart of Warren Wilson’s campus, down to the Swannanoa River, there is a site that shows multiple generations of communities. The descendants of the indigenous people are what we refer to today as the eastern Cherokee.

    Today, tourists and Asheville locals float down the rivers in Asheville in brightly colored polyurethane kayaks. As the Swannanoa River runs through my campus, the French Broad River serves as the boundary between downtown and West Asheville. There is a point where the two rivers meet called Untokiasdiyi by the Cherokee, which translates to “where they race”. I find it fascinating that humans have been floating down rivers for thousands of years, whether to fish or to race. Sadly most of the people inhabiting Asheville today do not know of this rich history of the Cherokee and their similar connection to the land. The Cherokee used the river just as much if not more than people today, and yet that part of history is widely overlooked. My professor David Moore has worked studiously to continue the stories and advocate for a broader awareness of culture in these Southern Appalachian mountains many of us call home.

  4. Lydia Waldo says:

    Even before the first European settlers made their way into the Ossipee Mountains in the early eighteenth century, this place was home to the Algonquian and Abenaki Indians. The two tribes traded with each other, but also engaged in many smaller skirmishes from time to time. In the late 1600s, the Algonquians built a stockade fort to protect themselves from the Mohawk Indians who lived to west and were known to be violent. Soon after, Europeans arrived and their influence began to reshape the area. Captain John Lovewell, a militia leader and famous English ranger (i.e. scalp hunter) rebuilt the Algonquian’s fort in 1725, and then led his troops to fight against the Abenaki tribe. The many battles that marked this period were eventually named ‘Lovewell’s War’ and its importance was not usurped until the American Revolution later in the century. With the threat of Native Americans nearly eradicated from the landscape, European settlers quickly built small farms and saw mills that utilized the region’s extensive timber crop.

    The Civil War brought a new era of change to the region, with many soldiers leaving to fight on the front lines further south. However, several war hospitals were set up in the region, and despite conflicting and spotty records, an old farm on the property of the place that I’ve been writing about all semester is said to have been transformed into one of these hospitals. Overgrown by moss and lichen, a large rock at the entrance still has “MAPLES”, the name of the hospital, carved into its side. To this day, the site is haunted by several of the patients who were brought to the hospital and died there.

    In 1925, the land was purchased by its current owner/foundation and transformed into the site of a Christian leadership conference for youth development that fostered believing in oneself through gaining new skills about how to make a positive difference in the world. The focus of these conferences was on balanced living, still a primary tenant of the foundation’s mission today, however the purpose and look of the gatherings have morphed overtime. Today these meetings are based around outdoor experiential education, community building, and leadership, and despite its Christian roots, the foundation is now interfaith and welcomes people from all backgrounds and traditions to learn and grow together.

  5. Maeve Sherry says:

    What does “forever wild” mean?

    The Adirondack Park has been protected under the NY State constitution as being “forever wild” since the late 1800’s. However in the years since then, amendments have been made to allow for developments such as ski resorts, war memorials, and most significantly, Lake Placid’s renovation into a host-town for two Winter Olympics. Each of these additions nudged the boundary of what counts as impeding upon wildness. To many people like myself, the Adirondacks are a place of refuge. The mountains and forests are an escape from commercialized life. We celebrate cultural symbols like moose, old-style snowshoes, and pine trees as representing our backwoods experiences.

    There is another side of the coin though- the charm of the Adirondacks appeals to those looking to invest in New York’s tourism industry. Lake Placid has become a popular tourist destination for those looking to have a blend of natural beauty and luxury. While my best memories in the Park involve long hikes without cell service and sleeping in tents, the lavish vacation homes surrounding Lake Placid display a very different interpretation of Adirondack culture. Often overlooked are the voices of low-income communities who are res the Adirondacks. Even though these constructions take place in their backyards, they frequently have little to no say in these decisions.

    Residents, tourists of all kinds, and businesses each bring their own visions of what they’d like the future of the Adirondack Park to look like to the table. Most importantly it is necessary to listen to those who are most affected by industrialization before making decisions that will cause permanent impact to their ‘place’ in the name of creating a thriving tourism ‘place.’ By recognizing the values and consequences that all parties are responsible for, the future of the park can be protected by the most equitable decisions possible.

  6. Colleen Dollard says:

    Initially I viewed my selected place solely as what it appeared to me as. It is a place I knew from my childhood and has remained a commonly visited spot of my adult life. I did not consider in depth the many people and creatures who have walked here before me nor the other life that was here before it was pushed out or cut down by machines with metal mouths.

    In understanding place we have discussed scales of time, spatial scales, non-human others, and most recently the cultural aspects that all work to define a place. Archaeologists have found evidence suggesting that Native Americans were present in this place as far back as 12,000 years ago. Being right on the water was very idealistic for Native Americans, and it would be one of the many attractive reasons for the colonization of the land by Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and onward. Some Native American tribes living on Long Island Sound made wampum out of shells and would use them in trading with other tribes. These beautiful pieces that once adorned the bodies of Native Americans now sit in museums where people can view them through glass windows. However, there are probably still tribes in the areas that carry on their cultural traditions and make wampum.

    As I looked around there is no apparent evidence of Native Americans in this place. Like many other places across the United States it was purposely eradicated by Europeans. Lawns and trails have been manicured and the landscape changed far too much for too long to begin piecing together what this place looked like centuries ago. However, this does not mean their existence in this place is forgotten. After talking about indigenous cultures in Understanding Place I have thought more about how people of the past are just as important in the definition of place as the people of the present. The blood of Native Americans still stain the soil with the viciousness of colonizers who massacred entire communities just to claim a piece of land as theirs. Due to their conflicting views of place, disagreements occurred and many people died. Had Europeans understood the native’s understanding of place, the world we know today may have turned out entirely different. For me this has become a really important aspect of place. In the first blog we were asked to select a place that we considered our place, somewhere we felt a connection with. I have come to realize that no place is ever solely mine or has rightfully ever been. But by understanding this I believe it creates a more holistic understanding of a place. It is the beginning point of creating a connection with place.

    Fast forwarding to the last two centuries, there is more tangible evidence of the people who came to occupy this place. I recall a time where brick pieces from the old fish canning factory washed up on shore. I held the small oblong shape in my hand, picturing how it sat in the factory and all that has occurred in between that led to this moment where it is no longer a functional piece of a system. There is a lot of physical evidence of the commercial fishing industry that was heavy in this area and still is today. Docks line the coast as do recreational fishing areas for the public. All around me there is evidence of European settlement. The rock walls that seem random today in their placement and the dismantled foundations of houses spot the forests stand as constant reminders of the lasting European impact on the environment and people.

    Though I can imagine more easily what this place has looked like in the more recent past, times before that are no less important in defining this place. This place meant starkly different things to each culture and these conflicting views over time are what has come to define this place today.

  7. Dakotah Kimbrough says:

    At Anathoth Community Garden & Farm, the inclusion of neighbors from different cultures and backgrounds is imperative to the flourishing of all. The membership of the garden reflects the diversity of Cedar Grove and the surrounding areas across age, race, ability, income, and educational spectrums. Member of the white, African-American, and Latino community come together weekly to get dirty and break bread with one another. This is reflected in the web of relationships that have sprung from this nexus and can be seen in the diversity of potluck dishes awaiting us at the end of each workday. Of course, Anathoth’s mission is driven by a Christian imperative to make peace with the land and one’s neighbors, and this is done through agrarian action. The name Anathoth itself comes from the book of Jeremiah and refers to the fields that were tended by Jeremiah and his relatives. This work of peacemaking and reconciliation is viewed as necessary in building community. All are welcome in the garden though, and the fruits of our labor are available to anyone who puts in the work.
    In the beginning, there was resistance to the location of the garden, as it was land that had been donated by a black woman to a white church, and members of the congregation held that area of Cedar Grove in poor regard. However, this reason is precisely why the garden works, because it is through the active participation of neighbors shaping their collective futures that bring life to the land. Now it is a beautiful cornerstone within the community, made possible only through the gathering of such different perspectives and experiences. Additionally, there is a continual presence of interns made up of students from either undergraduate institutions or the Duke Divinity School. These students are engaged with the intersection of agriculture and theology, and, for the divinity students, this is an opportunity to strengthen their pastoral skills. I have been a member of the community since birth and have participated in the intern program, being blessed to have the perspective of both a local and outsider. Though it can be hard for some students to transition to a rural, agricultural lifestyle, the relationships built within the group and with the residents always makes for an engaging and fulfilling exchange. It is important to recognize and engage with these cultures that are not our own because we come to see what is right within others and what of our own needs fixing. Everybody eats, but everybody experiences food differently. Being able to engage with others in the process of growing our own food imparts lessons that are transferrable to our whole lives, including the knowledge of nurturing and hospitality. I see myself returning to the garden in the future and continuing to foster a love of shared land and friendships with my neighbors.

  8. Dinatalia Farina says:

    Culture in Puerto Rico is so rich; you have food, music, clothing, language, mannerisms and others. One of my favorite foods in Puerto Rican culture is rice and beans. Traditionally it is a peasant food, but it is a dish my family may eat at least twice a week. Foods such as this you can make in large quantities. Similar to the Salmon reading, food is what brings people together and is often what we celebrate. As for music, we have salsa, merengue, bomba y plena and reggaeton. These are kinds you’ll find at parties or on the weekends, early in the morning knowing it’s time to clean. Bomba y plena is more drum heavy and you wear a specific type of skirt, which you use to control the tempo of the drums when waving it. I don’t know how to dance to bomba y plena music, but my mother did when she was younger. Clothing wise, you have the quinceanera dress; traditionally a big poofy dress, and the guayabera, traditionally worn by men. And of course the language is Spanish. Mannerism wise, in our culture we talk with our hands, and we are also big on cheek kissing; even when meeting someone for the first time.

    Environmentally, Puerto Ricans have the temperature to grow coconuts, guava, avocados, and many others. I actually spoke to my grandma a couple days ago and she was telling me about her avocado trees, and how they’re producing so many avocados this summer. She had also told me a couple phone calls ago how her mother was able to tell if summers were going to be rainy or hot, based on her trees producing fruit or not. I thought this was a one-of-a-kind story because it felt like something I wouldn’t hear of anywhere else. As if it was only specific to Puerto Rico, sort of like a fun fact. Though, I’m sure other people have similar experiences elsewhere.

    We also have the Taíno Indians, who are an indigenous group native to the Caribbean. When I think of Puerto Rico, I think of them and how they inhabited the land before my family and before their colonization. I used to refer to myself as Hispanic, but I don’t acknowledge my colonizers (the Spanish), so I am Latina now. The Taíno Indians have many symbols (petroglyphs) on a cave in Puerto Rico that I have visited called, Cueva Indio. One of the symbols is the Taíno sun which many people in my family have tattooed which is very much so a part of our culture. This makes me think that my Puerto Rican culture is somewhat different than others. They have learned to dance differently, cook differently and respect differently. Though we recognize the similarities and that is what brings us together as the Puerto Rican culture and people.

  9. Gavi Kaplan says:

    Birmingham, Alabama and culture. Oh my, where to begin? My relationship to this place began as one through an educational lens–you learn about Martin Luther King Jr. in elementary school, the civil rights movement, and naturally, Birmingham. I came to live in Birmingham because that is where I went to college. Again, more learning. Teachers explained to us the history of the people who have lived in Birmingham: the legacies of racism and segregation; the many denominations of Christians, white and black, who resided in the territory; Birmingham’s inception as a city dedicated to extractive and smelting industries, which gave the city its first taste of a unified “culture”; Birmingham’s larger occupation in what we call “The South” and “Southern Culture”; the bible belt, the black belt, etc.–all these things and more define Birmingham’s culture. However, there is a large difference between reading and learning about culture, and living or experiencing the culture firsthand.

    So, with that in mind, I’d like to offer a major critique of cultural Birmingham: the failure of the city, and the region, to share its many unique cultures with the other unique cultures, all that reside in the same area–together, yet very separate. There is no one to “blame” for this dynamic. One could point to de-jure segregation and racism as the main culprit, and you would not be incorrect. But there is much more at play, as Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela fought for “truth and reconciliation” in South Africa, there is little interest in a similar process in Birmingham. And that’s a damn shame. As we have learned from Planet Forward, when you look beyond all the differences that reside on the surface, people have so much in common. Putting glaring differences aside for a moment, my time actually “living” the culture in Birmingham surfaced the following observation. People in Birmingham, of all colors and creeds, really care about their neighbors, their families, and their communities. The problem resides in the fact that each culture has a different definition for “community”, “family”, and “neighbor”. Most definitions are exclusionary and narrow–but those people really DO care about all three things.

    I think an important, maybe the most (my subjective opinion) aspect of culture is what you hold dear. For example, religious cultures hold God to be dear, native peoples often hold the land dear, capitalist cultures hold the value of money and the free market dear. Birmingham has a nice mix of all these things and more. Each culture is unique in their choices of clothing, food, music, recreational activities, etc. But as I said above, they all value things that I consider to be inherently crucial to being a good human being. If only they could find a way to come together on that common ground.

  10. Elizabeth Roginkin says:

    The Conference House Park and Beach in Staten Island is home to a unique culture. Over the years, the predominately white Italian-American community has been slowly but surely changing, and many undeveloped areas of the island are experiencing high rates of development. Presently, like New York City as a whole, elements from many different ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds have been incorporated into the overall culture of Staten Island and the Conference House Park and Beach area. Now when walking along the beach, signage can be seen in English, Spanish, and Russian – reflecting the increased diversity and adaptation to diversity that is occurring. However, as is the case with many places, the change happening in the area – both socioeconomically and culturally, has been met with differing reactions.

    To many, the value of Conference House Park and Beach lies in its historical significance. As the site of Revolutionary War peace negotiations and conferences, the historic infrastructure is celebrated by the borough and is a source of cultural pride for Staten Islanders who through the park see Staten Island as having especial significance to the history of our nation and the Founding Fathers. As a result of its cultural importance historically, the park is deemed worthy of upkeep and is protected as a historical landmark. In this way, cultural importance to a community can be seen as a motivator for protecting places.

    Similarly, cultural significance can also shape the development that occurs in an area. After Hurricane Sandy, the children’s playground within Conference House Park was rebuilt in ode to the Lenape Indians who used the area as burial ground prior to the arrival of Europeans. Before the construction of the “Lenape Playground,” and installation of informational panels describing the Lenape people, few Staten Islanders knew about the rich non-European history of the park. While any standard playground could have been built, the decision to honor the Lenape people stands out as an example of cultural values influencing place positively.

    A current point of contention for Conference House Park is the construction of a dog park within it. While dog owners who value their pets and have been petitioning the city for a dog park are thrilled about the development, many others in the region believe that a dog park would not only alter the atmosphere of the park through noise, but also negatively impact wildlife and non-human others. Many people passionate about conservation and keeping Staten Island’s parks free of unnecessary development see the dog park as an affront to Staten Island’s culture and progress in maintaining “wild” green spaces such as Conference House Park. This debate also relates to the greater conundrum that development poses to culture; if a place is culturally significant to multiple stakeholders, which culture ultimately has the right to shape the future of the place? Can multiple stakeholders truly shape a place without collectively altering their visions?

    In class we discussed that trying to keep a place or its culture “as is” hurts places more than protects them. By resisting all change, labelling people as “outsiders” and trying to impose static conditions on a place, stakeholders acting out of care for a place may unintentionally be sabotaging it. In the case of Conference House Park and Beach, the community board and NYC Parks Department can work with various stakeholders to come to agreements about future development, but ultimately change will and should happen. Just as Conference House Park was once home to the Lenape, and to early American settlers, it may someday be another society’s place. In fact, unless our current society works to make environmentally prudent decisions, Conference House park may someday soon even be under water as a consequence of climate change and rising sea levels. Resultantly it is important to recognize that the decisions made to shape places today can have far reaching consequences for the future!

    “Conference House Park.” Conference House Park Highlights – Conference House : NYC Parks. NYC Parks, n.d. Web.
    Kiawana Rich. “Lenape Playground Upgrade to Include New Play Structures for Preschoolers.” SILive.com. N.p., 20 Mar. 2015. Web.
    Susan Lunny Keag |. “For Tottenville Residents, from Scenic View to Fido and a Fence.” SILive.com. N.p., 31 Mar. 2017. Web.

  11. Thomas Wentworth says:

    To be Human

    The wind is singing through the twisted trees
    Of times to pass and pasts that time has signed
    The sea is pure in its complexity

    And when, into the night, a body flees
    The rituals that call on the divine
    Are carried gently through the twisted trees

    Like chants of haggard slaves down on their knees
    Traditions try to calculate a sign
    To justify these gross impurities

    Between the writers and the signers of the lease
    Between those who choose the Greyfield to reside
    And those who sleep beneath the twisted trees

    What beauty in the ruins of Carnegies
    Where now the common ground we try to find
    Amidst our vision’s odd complexities

    Yet in the midst of these disparities
    Your toes leave imprints in the sand like mine
    And let us know in shade of twisted trees:
    To be is pure in its complexity

  12. Sadie Rose Zavgren says:

    I was ten years old when my dad began keeping bees. He wanted my younger sister and me to also know the foundational knowledge associated with beekeeping, and so for a few months we attended a class once a week to learn the technical skills needed to properly care for bees. We also learned by watching our dad suit up into his white beekeeping outfit with the netted hat. He would carefully open the top of the beehive and delicately remove frames from the inside. In late summer, the honey would drip from the frame and the golden beeswax would glow in the afternoon light. Our technical understanding of beekeeping eventually wove together with our understanding that this insect is important for the health of our climate, which made us even more motivated to nurture the mighty bees living in our backyard in two standing hives.

    We got our first batch of bees in early spring and eventually beekeeping became our family’s “thing.” We had neighbors come over for bee stings in order to cure their arthritis. My dad would catch a few bees and delicately place the insect onto the body part that needed healing. As soon as the bee was placed on the body part, it would release the stinger. The smell of the smoke that was burned to calm the bees in order to create an opportunity for us, the beekeepers, to open the hive and work while the colony’s defensive response was suspended, is an odor I still associate with honey. It’s a smoky, sweet smell that stimulates a strong memory related to the care of the bees.

    In late summer, my dad would harvest the honey, which meant our kitchen became a scene of dripping gold. The frames were haphazardly placed on baking sheets and propped up against the wall. For a few hours, the honey would drip onto the pan and then later we poured the gooey liquid into tall mason jars. Two summers ago, we had our best season yet. The kitchen cabinets were stuffed full of jars of golden honey, and it was the tastiest yet. I like to think it was due to the flower garden I planted a few years ago specifically for the bees. I learned that there were specific flowers that bees find most appealing, therefore I decided to plant a garden just for them. I don’t think this was the reason though, because the honey had a distinct raspberry flavor.

    Last summer was our worst harvest in the ten-plus-years we’ve been doing this, due to the drought. We hardly got any honey and most of our bees died. The taste of honey is something that can instantly ground me in my place. It’s the taste of all the flowers and sunshine that grow and shine in our neck of the woods. It’s something that many people in our region partake in, however it’s an act that people from cities find simply foreign. So for me, it’s a cultural thing.

  13. Matia Whiting says:

    Oma’s meatloaf sits on the stove, making its presence known with a strong, delicious aroma. Overhead, the orange flower lights cast their warm glow across the kitchen, revealing hundreds of spices, a pair of antlers, blackened pots and pans, a stack of National Geographic’s. Overflowing boxes of pens, letter openers, magnifying glasses, envelopes, and old photographs come to the scene, adding to the cluttered but cozy feel. In this house we throw away nothing. In her youth, my grandmother lived in Holland and suffered through World War II German occupation. When she was fourteen, her house was bombed and her family lost all of their belongings. She survived on raw tulip bulbs. We throw away no belongings; we throw away no food.
    The meatloaf on the stove is my grandmother’s favorite dish to make. Massive and regal, this juicy meal has been termed her “ball,” and is a family-feeder for several days. I’ve been eating “the ball” since I can remember, and it has never changed. This summer I thought I tasted a new twinge of ginger, but my grandmother claims it was there all along.
    As we sit around the white table underneath the old oak tree, I look around at everyone’s sunburnt faces and wildly tangled hair. The day of “king of the raft” and trampoline bouncing, playing bocce and mowing the lawn for Oma, stacking firewood and sealing storm windows, has given everyone a glow. In my family, there is a culture of balancing work and play. It would be considered disrespectful to spend a day on the farm without helping my grandmother in some shape or form, and this help more often than not manifests as physical labor. We embrace the work on the same level that we embrace the play afterwards, contented to be in this beautiful place.
    As we begin to eat the meatloaf, we joke around with my grandmother about our days until she almost offends someone, and then we back off to other more abstract subjects. We place great importance on our communication with her and with each other, stressing the need for interfamily dialogues on all matters that we care about. This communication is not unique to the dinner table, and when we are apart, we continue through letters and long phone conversations. My grandmother lives alone throughout most of the year, and it is important to us and to her that we keep her company through these various forms of talking.
    When the meatloaf is demolished, or the leftovers are tucked into the fridge for the next day, we move to the screen porch to watch the sun set. Upon the arrival of darkness, the younger and more agile members of the family retrieve towels, and proceed to strip naked in the starlight and run down to the water, towels streaming out behind like capes. “Nude swim!!” someone yells into the echoing darkness. We throw ourselves into the silky water and absorb it into every pore in our bodies. The meatloaf in our stomachs warms us against the slight chill of the dark lake. We are content.S
    There is no concrete way to describe the culture of my grandmother’s farm. The workings of family dynamics and traditions are so nuanced, so complex, that I sometimes wonder if I fully understand their implications myself. I find myself to be completely comfortable in this culture, and ease into these workings naturally, but through the introduction of various outsiders and their consequent inability to fall completely into stride, I have learned that our culture is unique and maybe even demanding. I cherish my family relationships, as well as our relationship to this place, and hope to emulate the culture we have created throughout my entire life.

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