Sense of Place pt. 2 – Manhattan, NY

Being at home for Thanksgiving provided me a much greater understanding of my sense of place in my home city. Because I’m from Manhattan, It’s hard to think of a certain place as your “home” – neighborhoods bleed and melt into one another, and to me, the whole island feels like home. One place to which I returned, however, made me feel an overwhelming sense of place and gave me a sense of nostalgia which took me back to my childhood. Rockefeller Plaza was a place that I would frequent in the city, either alone or with family, and its surrounding area is one I know like the back of my hand. My emotional and psychological dimensions here fostered a strong connection to this place, where I was able to reminisce most of my childhood and young adult life, walking past the rink and window displays in the Saks Fifth Avenue across the street. While there isn’t as strong of a biophysical component of this place in regards to nature, it is filled with people and beautiful architecture, all of which are immensely different from one another – in design, in purpose, in background, history, age, etc. Everything there displays a kind of art and diversity that is unique to any other place I’ve ever been, and I find my interactions with people here to be incredibly eye-opening. Conversations with New Yorkers are usually anything but average, and in this part of the city, where wall street lawyers pass college students who pass dog walkers who pass street performers, you begin to gain a sense of how wide the world is – how many opportunities and people exist in it, something which, to learn at such a young age, really changed the way I understood the world around me. This place hasn’t really changed since I left home for UVM, bringing a very comfortable sense of familiarity which home often does. Midtown in general, however, changes drastically throughout the seasons, as does New York City. Christmastime and Thanksgiving give me a strong place attachment as it brings back memories of coming to see the Christmas tree and ice skating rink in the winter with my whole family, hands warm from the hot chocolate I would carry, eyes wide in wonder as I watched the twinkling lights above me. It provides a very special history as I think of all of the people who have stood in the same place I have, experiencing the same feelings of home as I do every time I walk down West 49th Street. My sense of place has informed who I am because it has provided me a connection to a place that prides itself in making everyone, no matter their age, nationality, race, etc. feel as though they belong. I am who I am today because I have been exposed to a place that offers so much diversity, but also one which offers so much beauty and vision towards opportunity. Seeing people walk around midtown since I was a child has allowed my imagination to run wild, with who I want to be when I grow up, what I want to be like, look like, talk like, act like, etc. It has made me feel that I always have a place that I can come back to and feel at home in – that in and of itself is a feeling that I am very blessed and fortunate to have. My place meaning here at home is based on the rich culture, history, and aesthetic of this place, but it is only meaningful to me because of my emotional attachment to it, where I have been lucky to experience warm and happy memories both on my own, and with my dear family which I can cherish forever, and which in turn, form my place attachment, meaning, and overall sense of place. I am very excited to go back home soon and after a long year of waiting, see the Rockefeller tree lit up once more.

The tree and rink at Rockefeller Center, unlit.
Displays at Saks Fifth Avenue
A map of midtown Manhattan, notice Rockefeller Center in the middle.

Sense of Place at Centennial Brook

My site brought me a great deal of comfort in the early and late fall months, serving as a place where I could be alone with my thoughts and observe the beauty of change around me – I felt that my site very much reflected my own state, where we were each in a period of uncontrollable change. My sense of place perhaps, revolved around the parallels which I saw between my own life and the life which I saw around me, yet where I only needed to be still and watch as the leaves turned from green to red, and where small fish would swim downstream. I felt that after learning Centennial Woods’ rich history through both the self-guided lab and in lectures, that I was able to have a deeper sense of the land which I was standing on – I felt more like I could belong there because although I was an outsider in regards to frequency, I did not see myself as such in knowledge. As winter comes, however, I feel as though I have been thrown back in blind, having to completely reimagine and relearn much of what I had once known about my site, and my place in it. In these last few visits, it has changed dramatically – my site almost completely covered by a fallen footpath, and snow covering most of the rest. I think that having some sense of place literacy in Centennial Woods allows me to feel as though I am more a part of the Burlington Community – as though somehow I am “in the know”, without actually needing to self-identify as such. This, of course, Is imaginably a warm feeling, and provides a sense of welcoming which does not come easily upon most new arrivals. I think that in terms of history, I feel as though I have developed a severely different sense of place than those who came before me, menially so. Understanding land-use history, I feel as though my sense of place in this location is allowingly removed, whereas the sheep farmers who walked this land before me most likely associated it with labor, income, and home – encapsulating a sense of absoluteness. 

The new bridge that has been built across the brook
The bridge that is now covering my log 🙁
Black Walnut tree and bushes – no longer any leaves!
The cutest little pupper who ran over to us while we were studying our site.
Grass found in the brook
Newfound Goldenrods!
Red Oak losing it’s final leaves

Mapping out Centennial Brook

Upon going to centennial brook on October 29, I was met with a very similar landscape to the week prior. One of the primary changes which I noticed was that the small fish or potentially tadpoles had returned to the water since the week prior, when they were nowhere to be seen. They must be newly hatched children from the ends of the summer. I found few other animals, but there were many trees and grasses at my site, including a Red Oak, a Red Maple, a Black Walnut Tree (thanks, Grace!), some shrubs which resembled Buckthorn, and grasses surrounding the brook and footbridge. The Red Oak is changing colors to a deep red, most likely due to the colder temperatures and lack of sunlight it is receiving. The Black Walnut, however, has remained primarily green with some hues of yellow, but it’s leaves are still on the branches. The Red maples, though further to the right of my immediate area, are also turning a beautiful red color, not yet completely fallen off. The soils have changed in that they are less muddy and more stable, most likely due to the decrease in rainfall since the last time I visited my site. My mapping deepened my sense of my place as it allowed me to notice features and factors that were not in my immediate site, such as the tree species surrounding my area of the brook and the grasses which surround the long footbridge to get to my site. 

An Introduction to my site – Centennial Brook

My site lies at a small muddy clearing in Centennial Brook, just off of the bridge footpath. In order to reach the site, I walk through the entrance to Centennial Woods and take a right at the first fork in the woods, continuing on until the built footbridge ends, about a quarter of a mile from the entrance. There, on the left side of the path, is a muddy area overlooking the brook. The specific area which I look at requires a few steps through the brook until I reach a small patch of soil surrounded by streamwater. This surrounding environment is quite wet and muddy, with densely packed soil below my feet. At my site, I can see a littering of yellow toned leaves scattered among the pebbles and rocks which create dam-like structures in the shallow water, only a few centimeters deep in some areas. I know I am in my location when I see three fallen trees barricading the brook, a rotting log laying in its center. The fallen trees and branches serve as quite a stark contrast between the living and the decomposing, as they lay atop green grass and flowing water. There is a small Red Oak at the outer edge of my bank which is beginning to change color, pine needles collecting near the log, and several Ash trees surrounding the area. As I sit, I can hear the wind moving through the branches and leaves and the water moving around the rocks and pebbles which haphazardly block the path of the stream. As I look towards the edges of the water, I can see that they display the roots of grass and I am able to get a sense that the shape of this brook changes often, as the soil looks very unstable and slick. All around, the leaves are beginning to fall off of the trees surrounding the brook, a painting of yellow and brown on the ground, while above, some green and red-colored leaves hold onto their stems for just a little while longer. Soon I’m sure, more of these leaves will be covering the ground, collecting against the rotting log and other blockades to the waters flow.