the meaning of a place

Rolling green hills framing the skyline, winding roads just tight enough to squeeze past oncoming cars, and tall grasses enclose the beach overlooking a sea stretching out into nowhere. Oh, and don’t forget the sheep – everywhere, sheep.

The first time I travelled to Wales I was fourteen and was with my father, in August 2004. In fact, this was the first time I travelled not only across the water, but outside of Canada. While instilling in me a passion for travel – you might say I caught the proverbial travel bug – this trip also opened my eyes to the connections we humans make to places.

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Growing up, my dad was the classic storyteller, and as a family we would poke fun at his ability to connect one of his “When I was a boy…” stories to nearly anything. These stories, at their root, each connect him not only to his own past but to that of his father’s, my grandfather’s. My grandfather was born and raised in northern Wales, and after fighting in the second world war, where he met my grandmother hailing from Scotland, they came to Canada when my dad and his older brother were just toddlers. While this immigrant story is not particularly unique to the times, it plays a large role in how my father and, in turn, I have come to identify with this special piece of the British island.

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Wales, 2004

My dad and I visited my grandfather’s childhood home, I met distant family whom I had heard stories about, and I took in the breathtaking landscape, explored old castles, and walked along quaint streets. While I may have been too young (or naive) to recognize it then, being in Wales with my dad deepened my understanding not only for my family’s history but for how we can find meaning in a place, in my dad’s case many years after his last visit, and in my own, upon my first glance.

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Wales Jord (143)

Returning to Wales in 2010 with my partner, Jordan, strengthened my connection to Wales as I felt such a thrill sharing this piece of my family with him. Seeing Jordan fall in love with the country and its people, as I had, brought such a smile to my face. After a gap of six years since I had first driven through the Welsh countryside with my dad, I realized that in some cases it was the sights that had remained the same while I had grown, and yet there were always new pieces to discover, like a hike through Snowdonia or a drink at a local pub.
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My dad outside his father’s childhood home in Morfa, North Wales 2004;
Me, revisiting in 2010.

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It may seem strange to describe a connection to somewhere I’ve neither lived nor spent a great deal of time, but I think this is part of what makes it so meaningful. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how we connect to our histories and to places. Is it a choice we make or is it something we learn? This feeling must have been fostered through stories like my dad’s. And putting my toes in the same sandy beach as my grandfather had allows me to identify with this piece of my family in a tangible, physical way.

More than anything, what continues to strengthen my bond with northern Wales is the wholehearted kindness my Welsh family greeted me with, both with my dad and later with Jordan; family who are not only distant geographically but far along on the roots of my ever expanding family tree. Now, my dad’s stories not only have faces for the names of cousins and uncles and everyone in between, but I have my own memories and stories connected to this place and to these people. Just as the roots of a family tree reach out and deep into the past, the branches are also populated with blossoms of new memories and relationships.

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Caernarfon Castle 2004 and 2010

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Maybe how the connection is made is not the point, but it’s that in the end the threads have been woven in a way that makes me automatically feel something in the Welsh air, that makes me feel roots in a land I do not call home, and keeps me looking forward to my next chance to see its sights and explore it for its past and present meanings for my life and my family’s.

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Criccieth Castle, 2010

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