Defining Spaces – What Makes us Love a Place

My Grandmother was born in Ogdensburg, New York near the Saint Lawrence River. This is nowhere near my from. She then moved two hours south to attend Syracuse University where she met my Granddad. They married and moved several places where they had five children, the middle one my mother. They landed in Lawrence, Kansas where they raised those children through college at Kansas University. All of us grandchildren are a little bit Jayhawk because of it. Hard not to be in this family.

My grandparents would then move to Hastings, Nebraska for my Granddad’s last job. It was here where they would retire. Hastings, Nebraska is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the United States. We call it the Midwest. It’s a LONG way from the West Coast when you look at a map. But once upon a time it was nearly the west. Nebraska is wide and flat and open. Fields upon fields of corn and wheat. Too open for me. I didn’t like all that flat open space.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting my grandparents, and I have nothing against Nebraska. Husk on you huskers. I have crystal clear happy memories of that town and that place. I remember the foxes that snuck through their backyard. The lilac bush, so fragrant. The little cement patio out back where my parents would sit and her parents would sit as we’d flit around catching fireflies to fill up a jar. I remember the organ and their crystal and the sheer shades always pulled closed. I remember the mall and the Holiday Inn and McDonalds for pancakes with my Granddad. I remember the awful brown shag carpet in the kitchen and the pool table in the dark basement and my Grandmother’s knitting. And I remember laughter and hugs and lots and lots of love and cousins and family. I remember it all.

But I always was glad to come home to Oregon. To trees and mountains and hills and valleys. Tall tall trees. That stayed green all through the year. To my grandmother, these same Douglas firs felt claustrophobic and heavy and made her feel closed in. To me they felt safe. I recall a very specific conversation with my Grandmother about the impact of a space on your self. We wouldn’t have talked so ethereally about it. Just how her places were the wide open golden waving wheated plains of the midwestern United States. And the Saint Lawrence River of her childhood. I have yet to visit there, but its on my list.

I won’t forget that conversation. Her admittance that while she loved visiting us out the Oregon Trail in our from, her heart felt happy upon return to her Nebraska home. Of course you say. Makes sense. Home is where the heart is and where you make it. Bloom where you are planted and all that clichéd overworked glory. But that being said, I’ve had to bloom in many places and can attest that some, more than others, leave imprints on your psyche. Oregon for me. Not so revelational. And believe me, I’m going to keep trying to show you why. Stay tuned.

But there are others. Places that have left marks. Good marks. Like sculptors of souls. Many of these places I’ve lived in. Others I’ve spent time in. But there are certain places that will continue to pull me. Drag me. Back. Do you have these? What is it? A sense of home? Family? Times spent. People connected with. Memories made. Music heard. Food tasted. Challenges met. Inspiration found. What makes a place iconic to you? It’s a mashed up collaboration of intense emotion, outright geographic crushes and blatant experiential memory factors for me.

Oh man. What is she talking about? You know what I mean. Geography is a starter. Like swiping on Tinder or scrolling through Instagram – we’re wired for aesthetic responses. What place makes you click like? For me, I have to like the geography. What a places looks like. There has to be a physical attraction for me to bond with a place. I don’t think it’s shallow. But realistic. And it doesn’t have to be landscape necessarily. Although most of the time that helps. Put a mountain in the backdrop and I’m usually sold. Most of the time. But here I am in Copenhagen and while it definitely has left a watermark, there is barely a hill to be found. Not where I live anyway. Flat, flat, flat, flat. But the city’s infrastructure and architectural iconography are difficult to ignore. And let’s face it – it’s fricking charming here. Come and you’ll see. The houses are like candy colored confections dripping with charm. But, it’s not all sunshine and roses here. That isn’t because of the architecture. And there’s a lot of roses to be honest.

People are another big factor. Even if your special place is somewhere that you’ve never called home, only visited – whether a million times, or just two – the people that make it, that you meet (when you’re walking down the street) or the ones you share that space with – they make it. Or break it sometimes. It can work in reverse too. But those places fall away. They don’t make the list. The internal list. You know you have one. It’s the good ones that stay with us. That we want to remember. Again and again and again. For me, memories created with people impact a place’s longevity and staying power on my internal list.

What else? What else gives a dot on the map a space in your soul. Experiences. Times. Not things. Oh don’t worry – you can still buy that thing. That souvenir, that street art, that Scandi sweater, that tchotchke or that t-shirt. It’s ok. A momento of those spaces that speak to us acts as a memory jog for those experiences experienced. But that comes first. The experience. What did you do in that place? With those people. Did you hike a mountain? Did you surf a wave? (We tried, we really did and I will admit to you now that while everyone else in my entire family stood up, I only achieved a sort of one-kneed doggy style ride. Did I love it? I still did.) Those experiences connect us to a place. Did you eat epic pasta or savor sumptuous gelato? Were you entertained by artists or musicians or street buskers or athletes? Was it a night full of laughter about nothing at all? Did you find peace in a book in this space. It can be the smallest of moments that leave the largest footprints. Times. Not things.

So – let me break it down for you. Here’s what does it for me. What makes me go ape shit, heart a flutter, super giddy about a specific somewhere. Three things. What a place looks like. Who you know this place with. And what you did there. These for me are the essentials for defining WHY a place sticks. Why you choose it. Why you love it. Why you will always feel it’s tug. Why you would run back there in a heart beat. Sometimes it takes an instant. Sometimes it creeps in slowly. Sometimes it’s both.

These are my places. Magical, beautiful, memory-filled places. I know you have a list too. Maybe you haven’t thought about it this way or put it down or categorized it. But you have one. We all do. My Grandmother’s midwest. My Oregon and now my Denmark. But there are others that flirt with my wanderful heart. These on this list are mine. Are they yours too? Please share. Here are mine in no particular order:

Copenhagen, Denmark

Oregon – all of it. Yep. I’ll keep sharing it – you’ll see.

Seattle, Washington

San Juan Island, Washington

Moab, Utah

Paris, France

Barcelona, Spain

Bergen, Norway

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Sydney, Australia

There are myriads of others where I’ve loved and lingered and gotten lost. But I could go back to each of those places on this list again and again and again. I sat down today to write a much different piece. I was going to tell you about one of my places – specifically San Juan Island. And I will – don’t you worry. It’s too beautiful not to share. But the why of a place. Why it sits with you. Why it marks you. Why you love it. This is my why. Today anyway. Been to those places? Feel the same? It’s ok if you don’t. You don’t have to. It’s not your why. But I’m happy to try to convince you. You knew that didn’t you. I will keep sharing my places. I’d love to know where in the world speaks to you. Give me your top three in no particular order. Maybe you’ll convince me! More places for the list. I love that.

Happy friday all! Love from Denmark! Erin



17 thoughts on “Defining Spaces – What Makes us Love a Place

  1. Great blog, lovely descriptions! I have been to Paris, Barcelona and Sydney but sorry, none of them make my top three. I enjoyed all of them, even honeymooned in Paris, but no, my top six are:
    The Wye Valley, UK (where I grew up)
    New England, USA (Vermont/Mass especially)
    San Francisco, USA
    Istanbul, Turkey (sadly not now because of politics)
    Kenya, Africa
    Luxor, Egypt

  2. Boston, Argelès-sur-mer, France, Môtiers, Switzerland all have produce an ah feeling in my soul. I don’t understand why some places feel so right but isn’t it wonderful they do? Thanks for capturing the spirit of finding that type of place that sings to your soul.

      1. Boston, a major US city full of students and history. Mòtiers, a Swiss French village in the Jura with 600 people and 6000 cows, ASM was smaller when I bought the place almost 30 years ago now has about 8000 people in the winter and 100,000 over the summer. First mention of it was during the time of Charlemagne. There is just a “feeling.”

  3. Laurie Moyer

    I have loved reading your blog again. Have been “busy” and skipping it lately and I can’t believe I did that. I will have to go back and read what I missed.
    I love this so much!
    I think my list is still forming. I hope anyway.
    So for now,
    Oregon of course and our little eugene
    Kakegawa, Japan – we hope to take our kids there someday and share our memories from high school and college trips taken with our church to host Oregon Friends Camp
    New York – so much left to discover, our trip was only a week

    I’d love to visit Europe and Denmark is definitely one of the top places I want to see. It’s a cash flow thing for us but I dream of traveling. I love all of your photos because I get a little traveling in while I have my coffee in bed waiting for my babies to wake up. Thank you ❤️

  4. Hi Erin! You commented on my blog from the Monday Escapes link up, so I just wanted to stop by and say hello! I love and relate to this post. I don’t know about you, but it’s always tricky for me when someone asks where I’m from. That’s partially because I lived in two different cities during my childhood, but also because I have multiple places that are a part of me. I’m from Dallas and Austin, TX, but my dad is from Denver, CO and my mom is from Memphis, TN, so I grew up spending time in those places also. Then I went to college in a town in west Texas and now I live in Colorado Springs, CO so those are also significant for me. Not only that, but I studied abroad in England (Oxford) during college and then spent my honeymoon and 2nd anniversary trips in Hawaii (Oahu and Maui), so I think of those as special places too. I saw you had Hawaii on your list! It’s so wonderful there. 🙂 I don’t feel like we should be expected to put ourselves into one box of where we’re from, especially nowadays since it’s normal for families to move all over the country like mine did. Anyways, I love your blog and writing style!

  5. So very true. Husband and I love Cape Town, and we love the Basque country in France, because it has the same geography and light. They are both our very happy places. Iceland and Scotland fill those same roles, but just colder 😉 So basically, we need to see mountains and sea. And lots of trees.

      1. I love Copenhagen despite its lack of mountains; as you constantly show us, it’s got so much more going for it! And I am very envious of your new bicycle. Gledilegt Fostudag!

  6. Clare Thomson

    I LOVE this post, Erin! Just found it and I’m so glad I did. You’ve written so beautifully about the magic of special places around the world that just speak to us somehow. I’m not going to write down my list here but I’ll spend time thinking and mulling it over. Perhaps write it up in a blog post one day?

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