Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Power of Place

In my new home, little overwhelms the songs of birds. I come alive to a new day according to their rhythms and notes.

Seagull, St. Mary's, Georgia

In my new home, I lift my eyes to the trees towering above me on the bluff. I wonder what fierce wind might arrive to push them over and down upon those of us who dwell below.

In my new home, I scan the rock cut and hewn to make way for me and the others who’ve chosen this place as home. Then, I feel the loss of green lawns planted, nourished, and sprayed into obedience because some days, I feel the need to lie down upon the soft blades.

In my new home, I often search the skies for the clouds that promise rain, the eagles that grace the blue, and the lights by which I find my way. When those skies are heavy and overcast, I feel their weight upon my shoulders, a weight that lifts with the rains’ release. And when those skies burn brightly, triggering sweat upon my brow, I look forward to the twilight for in it is the promise of relief--a breeze to dry my brow.

"Esperanza Sky," Photo by Al Griffin

The place shapes me, directs my movements, and reveals my nature. As city-dwellers may manifest impatience in the face of crowds, lines, and delays, we who live outside cities manifest patience for Nature is in charge, not timetables and certainly not my will.

Authors understand the power of place. Khaled Hosseini’s latest novel, And the Mountains Echoed, makes wise use of place to explain his characters, to make us aware of the terrible deeds about to occur, and to call his characters home again.

Making Wise Use of Place to Reveal Character:

Every day, he labored from dawn to sundown, plowing his field and turning the soil and tending to his meager pistachio trees. At any given moment you could spot him in his field, bent at the waist, back as curved as the scythe he swung all day. His hands were always callused, and they often bled, and every night sleep stole him away no sooner than his cheek met the pillow. (Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed, “One: Fall 1952”) 

Making Readers Aware of Terrible Deeds to Come (Setting Mood and Establishing Atmosphere):

Uncle Nabi pulled up to a crowded curbside. Across the street, next to a mosque with soaring minarets, was the bazaar, composed of congested labyrinths of both vaulted and open alleyways….Mrs. Wahdati wore a pair of dark glasses that made her face look oddly catlike….
Abdullah saw a pair of soldiers in dusty boots and dark brown greatcoats, sharing a cigarette, eyeing everyone with bored indifference….
Down the alleyway, an old man with a ragged beard and two clubfeet begged passersby. (Hosseini, Khaled. And the Mountains Echoed. New York: Riverhead, 2013. Electronic. 617-618

The crowds that allow isolated behaviors to go unnoticed, the labyrinths that prevent clear lines of sight, dark glasses to mask motives and emotions, soldiers that do not guard against what will happen, and desperation personified by the old beggar establish foreboding. We know what happens next will bring pain to someone, even us.

Making Use of Place to Call Characters Home Again:

She gazes out the window in the direction of the brasserie, but what she sees in not the skinny waiter beneath the awning, black apron tied at the waist and shaking a cloth over a table, but a little red wagon with a squeaky wheel bounding along beneath a sky of unfurling clouds, rolling over ridges and down dried-up gullies, up and down ocher hills that loom and then fall away. She sees tangles of fruit trees standing in groves, the breeze catching their leaves, and rows of grapevines connecting little flat-roofed houses. She sees washing lines and women squatting by a stream, and the creaking ropes of a swing beneath a big tree, and a big dog, cowering from the taunts of village boys, and a hawk-nosed man digging a ditch, shirt plastered to his back with sweat, and a veiled woman bent over a cooking fire. (Hosseini, Khaled. And the Mountains Echoed. New York: Riverhead, 2013. Electronic.  3261-3262) 

As Pari memory returns, her mind travels to place for its sights, sounds, smells imprinted upon her, shaped her and her experience in this world.

"Go Down to the Sea"

Reading Challenge:

Read the wonderful third book by Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed.

Writing Challenge:


Write of a place that has shaped you and your experience in this world.