Out of all of the reasons why I chose G.A.L.A. as my first Field Work Term internship (location, environmental focus, community engagement, organization size), the most valuable and cherished for me was the connection to the planet that G.A.L.A. works to instill and engage within the community. A “sense of place”, in other words, can be a genuine luxury for a person like me who has often felt a lack of connection with my community as a result of nearly annual moves from apartment to apartment all my life. Through this internship, all of the kind people I have met, my first snowshoe outing, and all of the favors, invitations, and gatherings I have attended, I’ve been able to grasp a sense of place that has engaged me with an even deeper connection to nature and the incredible environment that sustains us.
When I think back to my earliest memories, I see my sisters and I running around a huge field on Cliff Island off the coast of Maine. I see the water churning up against the sides of the ferry as we ride back and forth from the mainland, which for my sisters and I was like a school bus home from Head Start. The population of Cliff Island was 58 (when I lived there) with its own school, church, rec. hall, general store, and post office. But my four year-old mind didn’t notice any of this.
What I remember most is my grandmother taking my sisters and I on “safaris” through the forest, my mom taking us to one of the many beaches of the island (each with a unique name all its own), and my sister and I running around the island’s wide, green field that was, luckily for us, the front lawn to the house we lived in. All that stuck in my mind at that young age were the moments when I felt closest to the planet: the smell of the saltwater, the soft grass on my bare feet, the intrigue of the dimly lit forest paths.
From the island, my mother, sisters, and I moved to and from several apartments, houses, and family homes, moving on average once a year up to the day I graduated high school. A month before going to Vermont, my mother moved us back to Portland only to move again while my sisters and I were away at school. Having moved so often that living in a single house for a few years becomes a new record, a tangible “sense of place” was not something I grew up with. Sometimes when my family would move to a new place, we would know our neighbors and, if I was a child, I would play with the neighborhood kids. But the more we moved, the fewer neighbors we knew. As of late, my only sense of “community” was in my high school, and even that was a poor example.
Since coming to GALA, I’ve recognized and experienced first hand what it means to be part of a community both socially and environmentally. All my life I have known people who were born and raised in one house with one family, knowing their community inside and out. The connection you hold to other people and to the planet is one that I hope to instill within myself and my family. I hope to craft that sort of community and sense of place for my future, despite the hectic lifestyle of moving to and from college several times a year. I feel motivated and encouraged to discover the ways in which I can stay in tune with my surroundings even while my life is far from settled. Thanks to G.A.L.A. and all of the community events and activities I’ve been a part of, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to become part of something else, something deep, something bigger than myself.