When we are born, we are born into a place. By chance, we find our limbs, skin and selves located wherever we may be. Some longitude, some latitude. Each story is different, though. Here, I am interested in the experience of those who awake from nine months of placeless sleep to discover numerous places inscribed both within them and upon them. These places are the first places. Whilst we may have little or no memory of them, they lay claim to our beginnings. We may never have visited these places, yet they exist within us.
We map our families in trees that spread and reach. Canopies form and mesh as generations grow, die and are born. These canopies trace paths across the earth: a vital web of branches and twigs. In new regions, leafy clusters form. The leaves stretch out, far away from the trunk from which they came but, crucially, they never fall. Every new place finds itself fed back to the extended tree, experienced differently by each leaf as homes, holidays, memories, exoticisms. Gradually places collect and pile upon the roots of the first place; a life time of day trips, extended stays, phone calls, post cards and romances.
We find, though, that we are not simply a leaf, a tributary twig or a fleck of moss. Indeed, as we examine ourselves, we see that we are also made up of roots.
As bodies we are mobile and so we take our places with us, they settle within our stomachs, our hearts, our minds as idiosyncratic nationalities- our own unique geographical identities. As we explore the world and its vast locations we fall in love with places, and with people from places. Actively, our roots, twigs and branches twist with theirs. We share and merge collections and show our insides.
Is the first place lost under all these pathways and buried under layers of journeys, relocations and recollections? Or does it endure and hold increased significance for those who may perceive their first places as quite ‘other’, or very ‘somewhere else’? Is what I feel an inherited homesickness for a place I have never been but know is a part of me, or is it a recognition of the unfamiliar within myself?
I can see that nationality is constructed and drawn up like the borders of a map but my first place is mapped upon my face. I have inherited some distant features, just as I have acquired a foreign homesickness. At once though, this face and these feelings are no one else’s but mine.
I enjoy and grow my collection of places, holding them within me, all the while knowing that the only place that can be real to me in this present moment is here, this body, this home, this exact location, this bit of ground.


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