Southern Illinois: Homage to Home

This blog is written by National Geographic Education Intern, Ellen Esling, as a part of the Geography Awareness Week Blog-A-Thon. 

When I think of Geography, the first image that comes to my mind is often a gigantic spinning globe. I have always been interested in studying exotic places, other cultures and other worlds. It is rare that I ever consider my own backyard to be an exquisite place of connection and Geographic significance.

My mental map of Southern Illinois is vivid and distinct. Twenty-one years of living in the same place, the city of Carbondale, Illinois—the same definite and indefinite boundaries, the same shops, the same faces, the same smells of urban life colliding with the crisp oxygen of the Shawnee National Forest.

I recall the main strip of local eateries, yonder to the rolling hills of Makanda and the railroad tracks and boardwalk where we used to smash pennies and buy ice cream. In high school we couldn’t wait to leave. When we do leave, we reminisce.

In the summer, Southern Illinois has the humidity of a tropical convergence zone; winters are dry and mild with the occasional school-closing blizzard. The creeks, the summer Sunset Concerts, the haphazard zigzag of entrapping bittersweet vines under the forest canopy, the yellow shag carpet in my Grandmother’s living room, the sweet sensation of pure apple cider on my tongue; my home.

Photograph by Steve Esling; Southern Illinois Mailbox
Photograph by Steve Esling; Southern Illinois Mailbox

What defines a home? A house is not a home; make yourself at home; home is where the heart is; home is wherever I’m with you.

The technical definitions of home are:

(n) An abode, a place where one dwells, lives, thrives, survives.

(n) A place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates.

Home is a feeling. It’s a metaphysical assignment to a space that harbors attachment. You can quite literally sense it. Home is a person, someone’s smile, a song, the familiar dandelions poking out of the cracked pavement.

It’s our relationship with the streets, trees and vibrant people we see everyday. It’s the same feeling that threads together community, an ethic of conservation, and appreciation for aesthetics. For me, it is an attachment to the “Wisconsin Scramble” at Harbaugh’s Café; the strangely sweet scent of Parish Soccer Fields on Saturday morning; biking to summer Driver’s Ed and later driving the same winding road to Carbondale Community High School. For me, home is the feeling of walking into the studios of the Mass Communications building at Southern Illinois University and feeling limitless. Home is working at Lipe’s Orchard Market, my family’s fruit stand, partaking in those Spring hikes at Giant City State Park, surveying the Rain Maker’s Garden in Makanda, eating a Bison burger from Fat Patties and feeling the satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot when running around Campus Lake in the Fall. Home is Saluki Spirit, the traffic from the arena parking lot after a Home Game; the taste of a ripe peach, and finally being old enough to head out on the Wine Trail. Southern Illinois is uniquely the setting of my childhood, high school and college years.

Photography by Steve Esling; Winter, the dog, in Autumn
Photography by Steve Esling; Winter, the dog, in Autumn

While in high school, my lifelong friend and I made a “Map of Carbondale”, our own projection of the space we inhabited, complete with a legend brandishing our nicknames of certain areas and “must-sees”. I still hold that map legend in my mind and heart- a tribute to the Geography of my childhood. Carbondale is the realm of my adolescence, nestled in the heartland of the United States. Home shapes identity.

Wherever I go in life, I will have many homes and new opportunities to create my “place”. However, I cannot deny that I will forever call Southern Illinois my home, my abode, where I dwell, the place where I originated, where my heart can be found; a place where I’ve flourished.

9 thoughts on “Southern Illinois: Homage to Home

  1. I did a lot of traveling in my younger years but I found my way back to southern Illinois again. Life here isn’t perfect, but it is indeed home, and I am glad to be here.

  2. You’ve come a long [as in light years] way from that essay you asked me to look over for you, couple years back. I saw the kernel then. But, honestly, I had no idea it would sprout and grow into this. You’ve got the knack, kid. If you run out of any other ideas, I’m here to tell you, you can write for a living. Excellent. Just Excellent.

  3. This is awesome, Ellen! So happy to hear my home described so beautifully. Thanks!

  4. A great read, thanks for writing this. I left southern Illinois for a few years and have been back for about eleven years. I will never take the sound of our crickets for granted again. I pray everyone gets to go home again that longs to.

  5. Thank you for writing this, I also love this area and your descriptions are picture perfect.

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