Yi-Fu Tuan is a pre-eminent geologist and philosopher, someone Thomas Berry might have called a “geologian”. In a work on “Rootedness,” Tuan wrote the following about creating a sense of place and a sense of belonging:
“It is not always durability of place but the need to constantly remake it that unites folks and maintains the sacredness of the place. Consider the Mbona cult of southern Malawi and the adjacent areas of Mozambique. The shrine at the cult center is a hut made of highly perishable material. It has to be rebuilt on the average once every five years. What unifies the far-flung members of the Mbona cult and gives the cult center its special aura is not the shrine but the act of building it – not so much the final material product as the cooperative effort and gesture.”
Most of us are no longer tribal peoples living in places with such powerful traditions. But that does not mean we are bereft of our own ways of creating a sense of belonging, a new sense of home. Even – and perhaps especially – in our highly mobile societies, we need to find ways to jumpstart a sense of connection and rootedness.
Planting and tending neighborhood orchards can offer that sense of place. Those who work the orchard together create a sense of purposeful togetherness. Those who witness the orchard in their neighborhood begin to believe in the specialness of their place; and all those who take part in the sharing and consuming of the fruit know there is a blessed bond between them.