line decor
Road with trees on both sides
simple living for a sustainable future  
line decor
line decor


discussion circles | what they discuss

discovering a sense of place (dsop)

Discovering a Sense of Place challenges us to reflect on what it means to develop a bioregional perspective, in addition to the global one we've grown accustomed to.

The readings and the discussions explore the potential benefits of knowing and protecting the place where we live.

This discussion guide was created and last revised by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) in 2007. Topics covered in 8 or 9* sessions:

1. A Sense of Place:  Wendell Berry, America's best-known bioregionalist, says if you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are.  With a sense of place, your identity is defined- to a significant extent- by the natural features of the place you live.  Without a sense of place, what will fill the void? Excerpts and Readings: “Living Where You Live” by Hannah Holmes ~ “The Sense of Place” by Wallace Stegner ~ “Everybody’s Ditch” by Robert Pyle ~ “The Spirit of Place” by Wade Davis ~ “Earth Stories” by Joseph Meeker ~ “My Empty Lot” by Joseph Kastner

2. Responsibility to Place:  There is a difference between living on the land and dwelling in it-understanding its rhythms, its potential, and its limits.  Those who develop intimacy with a place over time tend to accept responsibility for it. Excerpts and Readings: “The Land Ethic” by Aldo Leopold ~ “Rediscovery of North America” by Barry Lopez ~ “Homeplace” by Scott Russell Sanders ~ ”Notes on Living Simply in the City” by Marilyn Welker

3. Knowing Your Bioregion:  Your bioregion is a unique place with its own watershed, soils, climate, plants, animals, and history.  How much do you know about it? Reading: "Watching the River Flow," a booklet especially developed by EcoStewards Alliance, our former sister across the Potomac, to replace the readings in the discussion guide)

4. Living in Place:  Living in place means consciously trying to satisfy your needs and find your pleasures in your local bioregion and working to assure the long-term health of the bioregion. Excerpts and Readings: “The Politics of Place” by Daniel Coleman ~ “Reinhabiting California” by Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann ~ “Speaking for Douglas Fir” by Gary Snyder ~ “Green Cities” by Peter Berg ~ “Gardening at the Seam” by Judith Larner Lowry ~ “There’s No Specialization like Home” by John Bullard ~ “Place-Centered Economics” by Chris van Daalen ~ “Reweaving Our Soul Connection with Food” by Paul Conrad

5. Mapping Your Place:  Mapping can be learned by local groups and individuals to give a new sense of place.  A typical map shows political subdivisions and transportation routes.  A bioregional map delineates regions based on watersheds, climate, and plant types-and helps people relate to their natural surroundings. Excerpts and Readings: “Mapping the Biosphere” by Gene Marshall ~ “Mapping the Sacred Places” by Jan DeBlieu ~ “Raise the Grates” by Sabrina Merlo

6. Building Local Community:  A bioregionalist assumes responsibility for the health and continuity of a place, not only its natural features, but also the social bonds of its people. Excerpts and Readings:“The Web of Life” by Scott Russell Sanders ~ “Back to We” by Amitai Etzioni ~ “To Learn the Things We Need to Know” by Freeman House ~ “Community-Based Restoration” by Christine Schneider ~ “Cohousing” by Diane Meisenhelter ~ “Help Groups” by Steve Whitson ~ Neighborhood connections worksheet

7. Empowerment:  Knowing a place can inspire and empower one to take action to preserve it or take part in its restoration.  How important is individual and group action in modern society? Excerpts and Readings: “Making a Difference” by Katrina Shields ~ ”The Power of One” by Sharif Abdullah ~ “Church Creek” by Steve Yates ~ “Push for Change” by Ann Sihler ~ “Leatherbacks “ by The Giraffe Project ~ “Facts About Geese” by Angeles Arrien

8. Wrap-Up. This last meeting may happen at a different place and time, and is often a potluck meal. Your group will start by evaluating the circle experience. Then, you'll decide what you wish to do next (together or separately). You will also learn of many ways to stay involved in our wider community of like-minded people. If your group is so inclined, the wrap-up is also a great time to plan a community project together.

*Participants sometimes take two sessions to explore the local supplement that replaces the readings in Session 3. Also, participants sometimes choose to hold a field trip.


see our monthly announcement or get in touch with your neighborhood's volunteer point of contact to find out about circles who are about to discuss this guide. Or, order a guide and start your own.

Cover Discovering a Sense of Place

local opinions about this guide

dsop 2-sided description (PDF, 165 KB) with reading list

dsop flyer to advertise an intro meeting: Editable (in Word) or fill out by hand, in B/W (PDF 220 KB) or in color (PDF 196 KB)

dsop evaluation form (PDF, 121 KB) - If you're sharing or re-using a guide

dsop circle schedule PDF, 58 KB | MS Word, 75 KB

discuss these issues online in one of our four yahoogroups

videos about local issues related to the ones discussed in this guide

introducer / mentor sampler DSOP 2007 (PDF, 734 KB)