In my home state of Pennsylvania, there is a lake which borders the Ohio line, a lake which we frequently visited during the years that I was growing up. Lake Pymatuning, as it is called, is very large, is actually part of a water system covering about 30 miles in length and 30 miles in width, and marks the point slightly more than halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie.
I have some incredibly valued memories of what that lake was like, how it felt, what it was to fish in it, waterfowl hunt on it, camp along its banks. I could draw, even to this day, and with my eyes closed, the shoreline of Pymatuning. I learned to sail on it — meaning with a sailboat, not powerboat. I learned to canoe on this lake, and learned as well which areas to stay clear of.
I know the history of the lake. It is reputed to be haunted, in a pleasantly shivery sort of way. In the late 1500s, so the story goes, a group of Erie Indians moved into the area and established a village. This move toward permanence, rather than just a hunting camp, was not well received by the Seneca, who had allowed other Native Americans to camp there, fish there, and hunt there, but not take up residence. The Seneca Nation, members of the fairly new (at that time) Iroquois Confederacy, summarily and forcefully removed the Eries, executing those of that band (and there were many), who resisted the Seneca claim to dominance.
Events that took place four hundred years ago may indeed leave their mark, and the lake itself, along with the surrounding shoreline, is said to be restless with the spirits of the dead Eries who had once called the lake home.
I wonder — and with Earth Day upon us, I worry — whether or not this sense of place — the sense of place that connects me with Pymatuning or certain areas of the Laurel Mountains, also near my home — is a fading reality in our world. For my wife, this same sense of place ties her to some areas of northern New Mexico, whether she has just left them, or not visited for months. Yet, will future generations experience this reality, this joy, this connectedness?
You see, one must experience the place. One must know its smells, its sounds, its breezes, its shades and hues and colors and textures and even its legends and folklore. Only then, I think, can one claim a connectedness. And, in our increasingly insular and insulated world, I fear for the ability of future generations to understand this.
I once owned a book entitled “Touch The Earth.” The binding theme of these diverse essays and poems was that they explored, from within and without, the connection of Native American people to the land. One need not, of course, be Indigenous to comprehend that connection- that was simply the context of the book. One must be aware, sensitive, responsive, patient, and willing to listen, see, feel, and sense the land. It may be Pymatuning, it may be the hills around Santa Fe, it may be the swamps of Florida — in reality, all the earth is sacred.
For the sake of future generations, it is a connection we must keep, renew and strengthen.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: