Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas: Thoughts on the Power of Place


Wendell Berry said, If you don't know where you are, you don't know where you are going. Some links that look at sense of place and how it connects with both the personal and the ecological:

  • -Writers and artists love to philosophize on the meaning of place, how we connect to place, how place affects us (see my own philosophizing in prose below!). One great example: the travel anthology A Sense of Place.
  • -This Web site has some great quotes on the sense of place we derive from home and garden.
  • -More and more school curriculums are realizing the need for children to understand their local ecology, and how it connects to the world at large. Here’s one of many curriculum links on the topic.
  • -Richard Louv coins a new term, Nature Deficit Disorder, in Last Child in the Woods. He doesn’t define the term medically – his book is a look at the increasing disconnection of children from their natural surroundings, and the importance of reconnection. Ditto for adults, I say.


I’ve spent a week in Las Vegas, the anti-simplicity capitol of the world. I was surrounded by noise, flashing lights, and larger-than-life artifice. The hotels are in a one-upmanship race for the biggest attraction. We saw lions pacing in glass tunnels at MGM, an almost-authentic joust at Excalibur, and the Eiffel Tower at (where else?) Paris, Vegas. I got a good feel for how the rich get bored. Every possibility for indulgence and amazement, and still even Gavin’s eyes began to glaze over. Man made thrills have no real staying power. They are sugar highs.

It may not be my favorite destination, but work got me to Vegas and I was glad to stay on and vacation with Tom and Gavin. We loved the deep bathtub in our hotel. We savored our lunch in Paris. Faux as they were, the cobblestones and patisserie storefronts conveyed a warm European ambiance. We won money in the slots after many failed attempts. Enough to cover all that we had gambled away, and perhaps a few of our meals.

After a couple of days of glitz overdose, I craved fresh air and quiet moments. A stroll through the indoor conservatory at The Bellagio helped. Sunlight streamed in through the high paned ceiling, and I marveled at the floral displays and exotic butterflies. Our trip to Hoover Dam provided some desert scenery and a walk in the high, dry air. I took in brown, black, and orange mountain ranges and tons of sagebrush, so foreign to my East Coast eye.

Tom and I have already started to plan a Vegas antidote – a camping trip somewhere local when we return to Connecticut. He surfed around on the Internet, looking at tent deals (our last one, the one we spent our engagement trip in, went to mildew and rot). We crave a wooded campsite by some water (some real water free of pennies, dimes, fountains, light shows, and chlorine) and long nights contemplating the stars.

Vegas does not seem compatible with writing – not the kind I do, anyway. Living here for a week (and I am still here, in the airport) has made me think a lot about place and how it affects us. I watched strangers relax in the sunlight of the conservatory, and I swear I watched their faces take on a hard look in the casino. Not immediately, and not when they were winning, but most of the time.

Can you be anywhere and still manage to achieve inner peace? Can you be surrounded by slot machines and billboards and push them aside mentally, focus on deeper thoughts, on true priorities that reside far from money and celebrity? Thinking about my own experience of leaving crowded suburbia behind, I think it requires more effort in some environments. It can be done, but you might have to crank up your mental energy to stay with what’s real.

Postscript: I am glad to be back in the place I call home. Looking forward to a long walk later.

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At 5/04/2007 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so many people I know just LOVE Las Vegas. This includes a couple who has traveled all over the globe. Las Vegas is their favorite place- even coming ahead of the Figi Islands! What is it about that glitzy glamour that speaks to their souls?


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