Living in Place

Introduction to Part Two

This piece was originally published in Home! A Bioregional Reader, edited by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant, and Eleanor Wright, New Society Publishers, copyright 1990.

Living-in-place means following the necessities and pleasures of life as they are uniquely presented by a particular site, and evolving ways to ensure long-term occupancy of that site. A society which practices living-in-place keeps a balance with its region of support through links between human lives, other living things, and the processes of the planet—seasons, weather, water cycles—as revealed by the place itself. It is the opposite of a society which makes a living through short-term destructive exploitation of land and life.” — Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann

This definitive statement by Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann appeared in 1978 in the final chapter of the first bioregional anthology, Reinhabiting A Separate Country: A Bioregional Anthology of Northern California. Also introduced in this essay were such other basic terms, such as “reinhabitation,” “bioregions,” “watersheds” and “terrain of consciousness.”

Earlier on, in 1974, the people at Planet Drum Foundation put out a “bioregional bundle” called North Pacific Rim Alive—“the first effort at thinking about a specific place,” according to Peter Berg. From this collection, the wonderfully imaginative “Future Primitive” represented a breakthrough in perception, and therefore strategy, for post-industrial society: the need “to integrate our cultures with nature…at the level of the ecosystem which everywhere has a common structure and progression but everywhere varies specifically in composition and function according to time and place.”

Living Here, written in 1977 by twelve different people of “the first self-conscious bioregional group in the country” is an excellent example of a bioregional presentation. It includes a map and a description of the watershed; a description of the original native plant and animal species, including the human cultures there; the story of how these were all almost destroyed by “those who came to live off the watershed, instead of directly in it;” and, finally, thoughts about reinhabitation and restoration.

All three of these publications were the fruit of the tremendously creative thinking going on at Planet Drum Foundation during the ’70s. They gave a common vocabulary and orientation to the experience of many people who were already living “bioregionally” but not calling it that.

“Living-in-place” is not a new phenomenon but rather an age-old way of human adaptation which was successful for thousands of generations, until the rise of patriarchy and the present-day exploitative industrial civilization. Gwaganad’s testimony of her ties to her place, and the spiritual connection between food, place and people, poignantly illustrate both past and present experience of native peoples whose home places are constantly under the threat of destruction. She speaks for us all, for we were all native to some place at some time in our ancestral past, and it is our natural right to become native to some place again.

In his essay on the Hudson River Valley, Thomas Berry celebrates the integrating idea that each region is a single organic community of rivers, meadows, forests, wildlife, air and rain, soil and sunshine, including the humans and their dwelling places. This perspective overcomes the artificial split developed over the last few centuries between humans and nature, and between urban and rural areas. What affects one affects them all. “We are all in some manner needed by one another.”

Home is the place where we live, with our human families, in our human communities, within our biotic communities. As Luanne Armstrong says, we are created by our home, our place, “shaped, each day, by living in it.” In turn, we must learn to cooperate in its processes and yield to its limit, at the same time learning to love our place as part of ourselves.

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