Do You Know Where You Are? Wendell Berry’s Sense Of Place

Wendell Berry, the sage of Kentucky and prolific author, laments our general ignorance of where we are living. Most of us really don’t know much about the place in which we find ourselves living.   He says that “. . . if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  (Northwest Earth Institute, “Enjoying a Sense Of Place,”  Nor can you properly care for the place where you are.

How does one get to know a place intimately?

In his book, What Matters? Economics For A New Commonwealth (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010, pp. 34-35) Berry provides a set questions each of us must be able to answer in order to live successfully in a particular place.

  1. What has happened here?
  2. What should have happened here?
  3. What is here now? What is left of the original natural endowment?  What has been lost?  What has been added?
  4. What is the nature, or genius, of this place?
  5. What will nature permit us to do here without permanent damage or loss?
  6. What will nature help us to do here?
  7. What can we do to mend the damages we have done?
  8. What are the limits: Of the nature of this place? Of our intelligence and ability?

How many of us can answer these questions about our current home place?

It will be only by re-learning the where of where we are that we can then build up a care for its uniqueness that will power our actions to save it from the mass-uniformity that global industrialization is imposing on the world, and only that will lead us to true happiness.  The wisdom then gained about a place will be passed on to generations down the line.  A sustainable civilization can only be built on a renewed sense of place and that requires getting out of the house, out from behind the LED screens, into the real world, the local biosphere.   Once having learned the natural and cultural history  of our place, and figured out  its “genius,” then with a newly developed sense of wonder and awe, we we will realize that it is sacred and we are privileged to be its guardians and its restorers.



will realize that it is sacred and we are privileged to be its guardians and its restorers.


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