“To belong to a place and a group of people saves our lives.” Terry Tempest Williams
This quote crossed my desk as I was working on a project for the Huntington Historical and Community Trust. I found it echoing around my head as I corresponded and met with the board to refine the task I had contracted to do for them – create an illustrated presentation for the public on the evolution of the Huntington landscape over the last 250 years. As I ran ideas past them for possible topics to include, I could tell that this board really cared about the place they lived and they understood their role as the collective keepers of its memories. The same feeling continued as I interviewed local people, walked the land with some of them, did archival research, and collected photographs and maps to share.
But it was the evening of the presentation that Williams’ sentiments and how they applied to Huntingtonians really hit home for me. More than 120 people filled the Town Hall that evening. The set-up crew ran out of chairs and 10 people even stood in the back prepared to lean against the wall for the duration. The enthusiasm continued throughout the next hour as I shared photos and maps and interpretations of how their landscape had evolved. Whether it was old barns, the stone wall patterns in the old hill farms, the 1830 map of the dam and mills in the Lower Village, the road the ice cutters’ took from the creameries to Gillett Pond, the forest fire observation table on the top of Camel’s Hump, or the CCC camp site, the audience was really with me and eager to take it all in. (To watch the presentation, go here.)
After my presentation, people stayed for the homemade refreshments and to talk with their neighbors. Some came to talk with me one-on-one to share personal landscape connections they had, as well. Even though it was a week night, it was more than an hour before the hall cleared and the set-up crew could go home. After I loaded up my equipment and sank into the car seat, I paused for moment to reflect. At the same time as the evening was giving me a feeling of depth and grounding in people and place, it was also leaving me with a feeling of buoyant optimism for the future of this community’s life together. Here, indeed, was a living example of Williams’ sentiment.