I had never heard of this term before hearing it in my writing class last week. I’m not even sure it applies to me as I spent my childhood in several different places. First, though, let’s get the definition out-of-the-way. The term “primal landscape” was first coined by Don Gayton from British Columbia, Canada a few years ago. It means “the landscape a person most identifies with.” The translation of that is essentially where a person was born and raised. The article I read also talked about how this land becomes known, familiar, and comforting. I would also say it could be upsetting and painful if a person’s upbringing was not the best. As might be imagined, this term was first coined as a geographical term, but there are other uses for it as I learned in writing class.
The writing class I’m taking is a class on setting and description which should be important to anyone interested in the craft of writing. To set a novel someplace is to tell the reader where the action is taking place. A very important thing, I would think, so a primal landscape can be an important place to tell a story. My teacher assigned us the beginning of a story written in our primal landscape or the place where we had spent the most time up to the age of twenty-one. I immediately realized I didn’t have one of those landscapes in my background. My husband does though. He spent all of his growing-up years in one place. He could easily write a story in his primal landscape if he wanted.
But, the assignment was mine. I thought about all of the places I had lived. Virginia, Washington D. C., Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, and California. Then, I went back to South Carolina for college and eventually met my husband. We married and had our children there. The story could have been set in any of those places, or it could have been set where my grandparents lived as that was a place I frequently visited as a child. I picked a place and wrote the story. It was a deeply personal story so I won’t be posting it here. Let’s just say I learned the true meaning of what a primal landscape could do for my writing.
The term wouldn’t let me go though, and it made me wonder where my primal landscape actually was. I remembered what had happened two months ago, and it came to me. South Carolina. I had lived there for six years as a child, and I had returned for college. I settled there when I married, and both of my children were born there. In fact, two months ago, which was where this memory had come from, I traveled back there for the funeral of someone who has been important to me since college. So, I had the chance to travel backward in time.
I drove from the state I lived in to South Carolina on a Friday. I thought about my friend whose husband had died. They had been my adopted parents in college, and the whole family meant and still means a lot to me. When I arrived at the city, I could see there were some things that hadn’t changed. The intersection of interstates which locals call “Malfunction Junction” was the same as it had been when I was a child. The landscape itself seemed to have aged very little since the last time I had been there seven years earlier. There was one new thing I noticed though as I made my way to my girlfriend’s house. I saw a roundabout. Hadn’t seen one of those things since I lived in Michigan. (I’ve moved around a lot in my adult life too.)
Anyway, I made my way to my girlfriend’s house, and we spent time catching up that evening. The next morning she asked me what I wanted to do before the funeral. I asked if we could drive around so I could take pictures. We got in the car and off we went. Our first stop was the church where I had gotten married. It wasn’t even the same church anymore. The building was shared by another church and a school. But, it was still the same place. I had visions of coming out as a new bride and heading out on my honeymoon. There were so many people there celebrating our marriage with us. Family, friends, and co-workers. I took pictures, and we got back in the car. She asked where I wanted to go next. I told her to go to a certain elementary school where I had gone for fourth and fifth grade. We arrived, and the building still looked the same. I had a vision of my younger self taking her bike from the bike rack and crossing the street with a crossing guard. It was the same route I told my girlfriend to take. I wanted to see the house where I had lived from fourth through ninth grades. A few minutes later, I was staring at it. I took pictures and remembered. Remembered running up and down the street. Remembered where I had first learned to love writing. Remembered some of the most formative years of my life. It was a good memory, and looking back, I now know where my primal landscape is. It’s on a little street in South Carolina.
We finished our tour and headed back to my girlfriend’s house so we could get ready for the funeral. I had come back for a sad occasion, but somehow, I had found another piece of who I was. As I face this next phase of my life with an empty nest, it was good for me to find my roots and know the place which had poured the most into me.
Have a great day, everyone!