Are You Connected to Your Place?

belonging place Oct 11, 2023

A recent obituary section in the Economist magazine was of an unexpected subject. It was a tree. The Sycamore Gap Tree is one of the most photographed trees in the United Kingdom. Through an act of teenage vandalism, the iconic tree was reduced to a stump. The country is mourning.


“Our Tree”

 For over two or three centuries, the Sycamore Gap Tree stood without equals on the cliff-like ridge in Northumberland, a region in northeast England. Over the years, it attracted countless admirers and was voted England’s Tree of the Year in 2016. It was in a scene of the movie “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” and captured by plenty of phones, digital cameras, and film cameras. It was the site of birthday celebrations, anniversaries, and engagements. It even has a beer named after it.

Its loss is enormous, especially to the Northumbrians. In the words of the Economist, its absence is “tearing a hole in their hearts, killing some elemental spirit of the county… It had taken their symbol and their pride away. The gap left was immeasurable.”

Do you have something in your home area that, if lost, would create such pain?


Maybe it is a local watering hole that gives you a sense of home and belonging. How would you feel if it closed? (Photo by Kristaps Grundsteins on Unsplash)  


Are You Connected to Your Place?

The suffering caused by the axing of the tree, however, points to a positive: the people of Northumberland have a connection to their place. They care and it is this attachment that leads to pain when their beloved place changes.

On the other hand, people can experience a lack of connection to their place. Their place changes and it elicits no response. They may not even notice. Indifference is the challenge. 

Where are you in this continuum?

If you are strongly connected to your place, it may be a sign that you are in the right place. It feels like home. You belong. Maybe it’s the local coffee shop, bar, library, or park. More likely it’s a combination of settings that brings the sense of connection.

If you have a connection to your place, it is important to recognize that places change – some faster than others. Coffee shops close, bars change owners, libraries get remodeled, and parks can fall into disrepair. If your feelings are strong enough, you may seek to actively protect the places you value. But, regardless, change is inevitable and can be hard to process.

If you are not strongly connected to your place, it may represent an opportunity. It may suggest that you should look more carefully for ways to be grounded in the area around you. Get out more often. Embrace what your place offers.

It could also indicate that you are not in your right place. If change is occurring and you couldn’t care less, it may be time to consider moving to a different place where you are more likely to feel like home.


Flo (the shorter tree to the right of the light pole) was a prominent feature at Barton Springs Pool (Photograph by Amanda O'Donnell via Texas Monthly)


Austin has Recently Lost “Flo”

England is not the only place that recently lost an iconic tree that led to an outpouring among residents. Barton Springs Pool (“Barton Springs”) is a crown jewel in the heart of Austin, Texas: a natural spring water pool with an average temperature of 68-70 degrees, suitable for year-round swimming. A large, leaning pecan tree affectionally known as “Flo” hung over part of the pool for decades. Infected by a fungus, arborists concluded that Flo needed to be cut down.

Flo was given a celebration of life by her fans. It included a water blessing by a member of Native American church and memories were shared. People grieved.

The silver lining from the loss of the Sycamore Gap Tree and Flo is the reminder to us all that our right place often requires a sense of belonging to that place.


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