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  • Writer's pictureMichelle

Introducing the Sacred Mile Project

“I can't tell you much about being 'from' a place—I meet people who are so 'from' a place that they are bigoted, numb, and miserable. They see it, but, by God, they don't behold a shred of it.”

A hand holding an empty seed pod with green vegetation in the background, and the words "Introducing the Sacred Mile Project"

Where am I from? Other than my mother"s womb, I don't have a good answer to that question. I was born in a hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan. But my family lived in a tiny town near the hospital, not in Ypsilanti itself. So is that where I'm from? Do I go farther back, look at the ancestors who came to the United States in the 18th century from various parts of Europe? Am I from all those places? Or am I from the place where I spent most of my childhood, a tiny town in Northern Michigan, probably the place that shaped me most? Or am I “from” where I live now? Maybe some people have a clear sense of personal history, an origin place that will always feel like their own. But I don't really have that. I'm fully exiled from my birth family and from my birth home, from the home I grew up in. Maybe my body originated in those places but I, myself, am separated from them, probably permanently. So what, then?

"Well, I offer a retuning of intention, a slightly more sober directive—to be of a place, to labour under a related indebtedness to a stretch of earth that you have not claimed but which has claimed you.

"To be of is to hunker down as a servant to the ruminations of the specific valley, little gritty vegetable patch, or swampy acre of abandoned field that has laid its breath on the back of your neck. Maybe it's a thin crest of swaying weeds between broken-down sheds …"

Now this is something I can identify with. Several years ago my family was looking for a place to live, and we didn’t have a lot of time to find it.  I said a lot of desperate prayers and did some desperate magic to help us find something we could afford that would meet our needs within a very small window of time. The very next day we arranged to to look at several houses. We weren’t really interested in the last house on the list, but we agreed to see it at the urging of our realtor. The moment we walked through the front door, my wife and I both exclaimed "OH!"

In that moment we both felt like the house was wrapping their arms around us in a kind embrace. I, especially, felt … claimed. The feeling intensified when we walked into the back yard. It felt as if the trees were reaching down to me, the ground was reaching up, like everything around me was gently embracing me. It felt, immediately, like home. 

And how very lucky we were that it quickly fell into place for us to come live here. Not everyone is so lucky to find a home that loves them back. It’s certainly the first time I’ve ever had such an experience. More often than not in the past, I didn’t have many choices about where I lived. For most of my life I took what I could get, and often it wasn’t great.

On the other hand, near almost every place I’ve ever lived, regardless of where I slept and showered, there seemed to be some little spot that, as Martin Shaw puts it, “laid its breath on the back of my neck.” Usually a public park or some empty lot near my home, or within a very short drive. This is the first time, however, that the place happened to be my dwelling itself, and its immediate surroundings.

But this lead me to wonder how a person might cultivate this sense of being OF a place, of belonging to a place - because that’s what’s at work here. This place doesn’t belong to me, any more than any place ever belongs to anyone. I don't think places belong to any of us. But we can most certainly belong to a place.

A hand holding two empty seed pods on a stem, with green vegetation in the background.

"To be of means to listen. To commit to being around. It's participation, not as a conqueror, not in the spirit of devouring, but in the spirit of relatedness …"

So how do we dig deeper into relationship with the land where we find ourselves? How do we participate in the life of the land we call home? I don't have a concise answer. I imagine it's different for each person and each place. But it’s a question I want to explore. What does it look like to be of a place? How intimately can I know this place that has folded me into its embrace and made me its own? How many ways might I find to engage in reciprocity with this place? How can I be aware of, and grateful for, all this place gives to me?

"To be of means to be in. To have traded endless possibility for something specific."

Well, like I said, I haven't got an answer that I could articulate with any degree of concision. But I’ve had this idea for a while of taking on a project to engage more deliberately with the land that has claimed me. Not a quick social media challenge to be completed in a month or a season, but an ongoing project to look closer, pay attention, and really dig into my connection with the land. I thought maybe some of you would want to do the same, or even just hear about my adventures and misadventures. I’m calling this project the Sacred Mile Project. My vision is to explore my home, and the circular mile surrounding it. I’ve come up with a few ideas for how to begin this exploration, and I’d love to share them with you as I go. 

"To be of means talking, not about a place but with a place—and that's not a relationship available indiscriminately, wherever you travel, but something that may claim you once or twice in a lifetime."

If you’d like to engage in this conversation with your own sacred mile, I invite you to join me. I’ll be posting my musings here on the blog, along with activities you might want to try alongside me. If you’re interested in joining in, I’ve included are a few more details below. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments and I'll answer them as soon as I can.

What this project is:

It's a project, not a challenge. It's an approach to engaging in conversation with the land we call home in a deliberate manner, and (if we wish), sharing it with others who are doing the same. I'll share the activities I engage in, and invite you to join in, but participation doesn't come with a bunch of rules. Any and all of what I share you can take or leave. If you decide to do your own project, I'd love to hear about it either in comments on the blog, or on social media (I mostly use Instagram, though I am still on Facebook and check it occasionally).

It's an attempt to inspire us all to live closer to home, to engage more deeply with the land through reflection prompts and simple activities.

It's a spiritual, even religious project. I approach the land from an animistic, polytheistic perspective and that approach will permeate all my activities and journal prompts for the project. Of course you don't have to approach the project in this way - love and intimacy with the land might not be a spiritual thing for you - but my writing and art and approach will be spiritual.

It's asynchronous. Start when you like. Participate whenever you wish. Stop whenever you want. I currently don't know how long I'll formally pursue the project. We’ll find out together.

It's loosely structured. Almost unstructured, really. My goal is to do SOMETHING related to the project every week, but yours could be different. And it's a soft goal: I can't predict what life will throw at me next year, so I'll take it one step at a time.

It's intimate - but the intimacy is focused more on non-human beings than on humans. Not that other humans don't matter! Just that this challenge is about getting to know the other-than-human better.

What this project is not:

It's not a how-to course on green living, or any kind of eco-living challenge. Don't get me wrong, I'm pro green living! I think greater awareness of our impact on the environment, and learning ways we can make that impact more beneficial, is important and amazing work for us all to do as much as we are able. But there are many resources on that topic already, ones put together by more knowledgeable people than myself. I admire those people, and this project will hopefully complement those resources. I can't imagine we could get more close and intimate with the land without caring about our ecological impact. But I want to focus on the relationship itself, and let each of us draw from that what kinds of actions we want to take based on information we trust.

It's not judgmental. While it's possible that participating in the challenge might help us all be more aware of our environmental impact, the purpose is not to judge ourselves or each other in any way. Our choices and lifestyles are our own, and I'm not here to tell anyone what to do or how to live. If you join in, please keep this in mind as you interact with others who participate. Always try to default to kindness and mutual support.

It's not productivity based. While I hope to find inspiration and create art and writing around the project, the point isn't to add more items to our to-do lists. If all you want to do is look out the window every day and notice the world around you, then that's what you should do. The project is about awareness and connection, and neither of those things require productivity.

It's not competitive. I would love for all of us to share anything we want to share, but we all live different lives and have different energy levels and commitments. If you want to participate but don't feel like you can “do enough", please don't worry about it. Just do what feels right to you. Any activities and journal prompts I offer are just ideas to take or leave as you wish. 

Having said that, here’s the first activity of the project - and the only one that I highly recommend you actually do.

Introductory Activity One: Find Your Mile. 

Go here.

Enter your full address, including the zip code, in the address box.

Enter your desired radius in the radius box, and make sure the drop down menu to the right of the box is set to your desired unit of distance. Since I'm in the U.S. I'll use miles. I want my circle to be two miles in diameter, so I'm selecting a radius of one mile. I recommend keeping the diameter of your circle under 3 miles (that means a radius of 1.5 miles). It could even be as small as your own back yard or patio if you wish - the smaller your circle, the deeper your observations and intimacy can go. I chose 2 miles for my circle because I felt the need to include the wetlands park I visit often, and the trailhead where I park my car is two miles from my house.

Once you’ve entered your address, radius, and unit of distance, click “zoom to address” until you recognize street names or landmarks around your house.

Click “new circle”, and your circle should appear on the map.

Now you can make the map full screen, zoom in, and move the map around to see what's inside your circle . You’ll be using this map throughout the project, so copy the link under the map and save it somewhere so you can return to it easily.

A hand holding an empty seed pod so you can view it from the top.

Introductory Activity Two: Optional!

You may wish to keep a record of your thoughts and adventures as you take part in the project. I want to create a sort of art and words journal, where I record observations on the weekly changes in the cycle of seasons, and also do creative projects that give artistic expression to what I observe. You may wish to just keep lists of what you see, take photos, or respond to your observations of the world around you in whatever way feels appropriate. You might do this only for yourself, or you might choose to share your creations with others. If you DO share on social media, I hope you"ll use #sacredmileproject so we can all find each other. But there are no rules and no requirements here: this is simply a practice of intimacy and animism, and you should pursue it in whatever way feeds your soul.

Once again, if you have questions feel free to drop them in the comments, and I’ll answer as soon as I can. I can’t wait to see what we all learn and discover in the coming months.

All photos in this post copyright Michelle Simkins, 2020. Please do not reproduce or use in any manner other than personal, private use without permission.

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Image by Annie Spratt

Michelle Simkins

polytheist . writer . maker . witch

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