In a (dubious) nutshell, sense of place is an amalgam of physical description, characterization, regional specificity, a sense that the characters (and by extension the writing) are unquestionably influenced by their location, and the whiff of legerdemain that makes the artifice more real than its actual counterpart.
(In recent years, anthropologists have adopted the term as a form of negative description, illustrating the dislocating absence of a sense of place in nowhere/anywhere landscapes like strip malls, airports, and chain stores—human structures that have no special relationship to their geography.)
Sense of place has been much on my mind recently, sparked primarily by the freakishly warm weather the Hudson Valley was experiencing until the true cold snap of late January. The implications of what global warming means for the future of the planet are bad enough, but as I squatted in my garden and picked spinach for a breakfast frittata, eaten al fresco during the first week of the new year, a keen psychic discomfort engulfed me. For if the Hudson Valley, the place where I get my sense of place from, is no longer the place I know, then who am I? How should I shift my persona, my soul, to accommodate the new reality? Hardy greens are one thing, but harvesting lettuces in my shirtsleeves in January is not an activity normally undertaken by a Kingstonian.
Of course, the Hudson Valley has been reworking its sense of place since the Half Moon sailed up the river in 1610. Change has accelerated in the past 20 years—I, an urban transplant, am evidence of it; this magazine’s very existence evidence of it—and doubtless many who have spent the entirety of their lives here find the pace of development disorienting, eroding to their bedrock sense of place. Having lived here only 20 years (almost), I too have seen enough shifting in the landscape to sometimes feel an anxious tug at my psychological tether to the local geography.
While change is inevitable—the primary lesson we are to learn in this century, tough-love style, I fear—there can be continuity, and there is a way for character and identity to remain intact. This magazine spends much time and many resources chronicling the continuity of the Hudson Valley—this special relationship we have to our place. For it is not just anywhere we live. It’s not just any river that we cross on our daily commutes; not just any mountains we hike; not just any food we eat in season; not just any landscape we exist in. It is this one—this one that surrounds us and is us.
Once again, we’ve endeavored to capture some of that magic in this vessel.
Last month in this space, I fairly gushed about the relaunch of our website, lauding its general redesign and expanded functionality. Well, I’m still gushing. Peter Aaron, Chronogram’s indefatigable assistant editor, is toiling daily to update the site, adding multimedia content and web-only features that enhance the reader’s experience in ways unimaginable in our paper version. (For instance, we now have a catalog of over 50 songs by local artists we’ve reviewed or profiled available for streaming listening on our site, and the archive keeps growing!)
While our site is accessible to everyone with an Internet connection from Beacon to Baluchistan, and it is no more an actual “place” than our magazine (though our servers do reside in a secret underground bunker in Kingston, complete with pneumatic-tube failsafe system),Chronogram.com is as firmly rooted in the Hudson Valley as our paper publication. Chronogram.com refines and expands the vision of Chronogram and projects it into infinite space, but we’re transmitting a regional portrait writ (digitally) large. We may be offering a window to the world, but the view is still of the Hudson Valley, warts and all, from a decidedly Chronogrammatic perspective—creative, questioning, and conscious.