How do we know where we are? Increasingly the answer is through the dot on a screen—the little man on a Google map, the arrow on a dashboard GPS. We know we are somewhere in the matrix of blue, greens, yellows and reds that make up the map, but that doesn’t tell us that we are here, in this particular place, with a particular history and particular ecology. Instead of abstract dots I have been working lately to find anchors—things I can hold onto that keep me grounded in each here.
So much of our commercial culture is based in anonymity. Go to a conference in a convention center in any major city and the experience will be mostly the same until you get out to the side streets—big glass buildings, bridges from a hotel to the exhibit halls. The same with highway exits and suburban commercial districts—anywhere abounds. So how do we find anchors that remind us where we are?
We should start by seeking the places away from anonymity, the particulars of each place. We should eat chili in Cincinnati, BBQ in N.C., and deep dish in Chicago. We should ask the locals about the best places. We should also listen and listen carefully, in an age of neutral accents they still come through if you pay attention. Mostly, we should simply pay attention. I have long been a birdwatcher and birds are always anchors for me because they vary so much by habitat and region. Knowing the difference between one bird and another and paying attention to those differences makes for an easy anchor to particularity.
What are the anchors in your own life? How do you know where you are?