“If you don’t know where you are,” Wendell Berry once said, “you don’t know who you are.” That is at the heart of a new environmental literature discussion series that the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) is hosting in partnership with The Spencer-Penn Centre. “We’ll be taking a look at a wide variety of literature,” says Jenny Edwards, DRBA’s Virginia Program Manager, “and how those stories can help us explore the meaning of ‘place’ and our responsibility to the natural environment in the communities of the Dan River Basin.”
The series coincides with the release of An Insider’s Guide to the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia. Made possible by Golden LEAF Foundation with additional support from the Virginia Environmental Endowment, the new guide highlights some of basin’s most stunning natural features and interesting communities. “That’s part of what we want to explore in our discussions,” according to Edwards, “those places in the Dan River Basin that have a strong ‘sense of place,’ and why that’s so.”
Edwards says The Spencer-Penn Centre is a great example of what is meant by “sense of place.” Once the hub of Spencer, Virginia as the town’s only school, the building is now a unique and vibrant center for the arts, special events, and programs like this one. “Just walking into this beautifully restored historic building,” Edwards says, “you definitely feel a sense of place.”
Beginning August 25, the discussion group will meet in The Spencer-Penn Centre library on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 6 pm to 7 pm, and perhaps going a bit later in the evening if the conversation is lively. WLOE/WMYN 1490 AM has begun featuring the readings on the “Community Accents” program each month on the third Thursday from 8:30 – 9:00 am and again in a rebroadcast from 6:30 – 7:00 pm. Plans are in the works to podcast the radio program as well.
The discussion group is open to everyone, but pre-registration is required and limited to 10 participants. A light dinner will be served. DRBA will send the readings well in advance of the discussion meetings or they may be picked up at Spencer-Penn after the first Tuesday of each month.
The first readings, slated for August, will come from selected chapters of Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a White Cracker Childhood, and Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society.” Born in 1962, Ray is a leading environmental writer, spokesperson and activist. In Ecology of a Cracker Childhood she recounts experiences of growing up in a family that struggled to make ends meet, and how her family history and personal identity is tied to the piney woods of southern Georgia. Ecology has won the American Book Award, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and the Southern Environmental Law Center Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. Lippard’s book, Lure of the Local, explores how unique characteristics of the built and natural environment give rise to a “sense of place.”
The discussion group will probe questions such as: what is the difference between living on the land and dwelling in it? How do we understand the land’s rhythms, potential, limits? Do people who develop an intimacy with a place over time tend to accept responsibility for it? If not, then why is that so and how might that be different from place to place? What is meant by “placeless places”—those landscapes such as strip malls, big box stores, chain restaurants, that could be dropped anywhere on the American landscape?
Registration for the program is free and may be made by calling Jenny Edwards at (276) 340-2462 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The program is made possible by support from the Virginia Environmental Endowment, WLOE/WMYN, The Spencer-Penn Centre and DRBA.