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Creating Your Place


I am writing to you from Missoula, Montana, where I moved and have lived since September 2020. I grew up in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota and Michigan, cultivating my relationship with the natural environment through family trips to the north shore of Lake Superior and pretending to be a nomad wandering through the vastness of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Living in Montana I am surrounded by mountains, coursing rivers and what seems like endless public lands. Since living in a place where the majority of people you meet are either an herbalist, environmental educator, or at the very least an avid outdoors person, this connection to nature has grown. My desire to protect nature has also expanded along with it. Wherever you are in this beautiful world of ours, I hope to convince you to be an environmental steward of your place.

The burning elephant in the room is that the effects of climate change are upon us. Some of the most harrowing stories come from people I’ve talked to here in Missoula. They tell stories of the absence of snow weeks earlier than normal, prolonged stretches of record high temperatures, how for the past decade each summer has had more and more smokey days. And it hits home, as I look at the distant mountain ranges with skinny slivers of snow seemingly trying to hide in shady recesses or I look up and see the ominous orange glow of a hazy sun. These are just a few examples of how the existential crisis of climate change is becoming increasingly tangible in our daily lives. Times are a changin’. Though I haven’t lived in Missoula long enough to witness these changes myself, I feel an attachment to this place and a desire to protect it.


As near and dear as we hold this place of natural beauty, this outdoor haven is changing. As a Geography major in college, I studied people’s complex relationship with place and how it becomes part of our identity. It’s no coincidence that one of the first things we ask when meeting someone is where they’re from. But what does this change mean for us? What effect does that have on our psyche?

Places often have abundant associations and are saturated with memories. These things are part of what creates place attachment. The meaningfulness of the activities that have occurred at the place, the specific features of the site and the link that this place has towards an individual’s identity all play a role in how strong the attachment is. Place attachment provides a sense of security and wellbeing. Which in turn allows that place to be a way of being, seeing, knowing and understanding the world. For place attachment to be present, there needs to be two types of interactions or components: the interactional past and the interactional potential of a site.

The interactional past is what has been described as above. A physical site has become a meaningful place due to the interactions, layers of experiences and meanings that an individual or community associates with that place. This is directly linked then to the interactional potential of a site. Eventually, there are unconscious or conscious associations with the type of activity that will happen in that place in the future. There is perhaps a confident anticipation as to what new memories could be formed there over time. What I urge you to focus on is this second component, the interactional potential of a place, for it can be a powerful tool.

Eco Grief Section:

It is easy to become overwhelmed by reports of catastrophic hurricanes, floods, wildfires, winter storms in Texas or wildfires in the west; there are so many stories that paint a grim picture of our reality. With this it is increasingly common to experience what is called eco-grief. A sadness or mourning stemming from realizations about the decline of our natural world, but I would also say some of this grief comes from the destruction or suffering of places that people hold dear. It becomes easier to see now, how the loss and rupture of these various levels of attachments through climate change, whether through a gradual process or a catastrophic event, would lead to feelings of loss and grief on both an individual and community level. These feelings are completely understandable and can often be paralyzing for an individual, but I want to encourage you that there are healing actions each one of us can take.

Individual Actions:

I’m sure you’ve heard of the argument of systemic change vs. individual actions. As the devil’s advocate I would say that we are past the point where individual actions will slow climate change, but as a hopeful human being I think that our individual actions no matter how small can amount to something much greater. Though the list of suggestions below may seem insignificant in fixing raging wildfires and rising sea levels, performing small sustainable actions on a daily or weekly basis is a great way to ease some of the eco-grief. No one starts off running an entire marathon without first taking small baby steps. So think of them not as small steps in the right direction, but as ripples that will build into a wave of change.

  • Plant native plants! Difference is one of the beauties of our world and should be celebrated, but in the natural world that means leaving things how they have developed and grown for hundreds of years.

  • Don’t use synthetic fertilizers: As green and pest free as your lawn may be, there’s no telling what connections you may have disrupted in your local soil food web. Pesticide use negatively affects the biodiversity of plants, insects, and birds.

  • Volunteer at local environmental organizations: We all love to see you get dirty… cleaning up a river.

  • Spread awareness of environmental issues: Social media is maybe the most effective way to spread information in our day and age, use it…. Tiktok if you must. #StopLine3

  • Donate: There are so many incredible organizations, activists, and movements fighting to support our natural world. Do some research and give when you can, as much as you can. A little goes a long way!

  • Eat locally: Try to eat locally sourced produce and support farmers/small businesses in your area. Unless you live on a coast, it probably took a lot to get you that oyster.

  • Be conscious of your household resources: Consider taking shorter showers, turn off your AC, electric appliances, and lights when you leave home.

My hope is that taking these actions will strengthen our attachment to the place we live and inspire others to care for it as well. As individuals come together to form communities with sustainable practices, hopefully the rhetoric spreads to states, then to countries, and eventually we can all care for our planet together. The end goal is for humanity to have a sustainable, resilient relationship with the earth. But I first urge you to think about your place, your city, your parks, your local waterways. If you find a way to get involved in a positive fashion, you will find that you are shaping the interactional potential of that place for future generations. Make your place somewhere people treasure, make it a healing place, make it a place that inspires others to take action now and in the future. Together, we can make our world a better place.

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