PLACE OVER VICTORY

I have few memories of personal athletic heroism mainly because I was a good player and not a great one. Between fifth grade softball, intramural games, pick-up ball, and city leagues, I don’t think there are more than a dozen circumstances when I made a last second basket or smacked a game-winning hit. Given the venues, I’m not sure I ever achieved this in front of a crowd of more than one hundred fans.

And of the dozens of teams I played on, there have only been three championships, countless runner-ups, and scores of ho-hum seasons. I have a modest collection of second place trophies that for many years sat on an unseen shelf in an unused basement. I’ve never known what to do with them, thinking that they might be more useful as bird feeders. Far more useful as a means of displaying modest prowess I have quite a few award t-shirts, some commemorative, and others announcing an accomplishment. I still have my twelfth grade intra-mural softball championship t-shirt which I won well over forty years ago. It no longer comes close to fitting me (I believe seeing my then teenage daughter once wearing it), and it now sits on a shelf next to my old teddy bear. I have several well worn t-shirts from three on three basketball leagues, two championships and lots of runner ups (we only once managed to beat Dave Goldsmith’s team).

Three on three basketball is my most skillful game as I have an accurate, sometimes deadly, very long range three point shot, and on a good passing team I can score a lot of points very quickly, especially when there’s a good big man who the defense is worried about. Still, a lemon yellow shirt that reads Keene Family Y 3 on 3 champions, 1982, wasn’t very imposing. Yet I wore it with great pride, both as a measure of my affiliation with basketball, my pleasure at living in southwest New Hampshire, and as a tangible link to childhood dreams of glory.

These jerseys represent more than nostalgia, conviviality, and community, all qualities potentially intrinsic to memorabilia. More importantly, and transcending and incorporating these qualities, is how they bind me to a place that I love, engaged in one of my favorite things to do. My sense of place and my territorial affiliations are linked to the teams I play on and the teams I route for.

I knew I belonged to the Monadnock Region of southwest New Hampshire when I was playing softball on a field in Troy, NH, early in May, with snow on the hillsides, and the temperature for our late night D league game was 39 degrees. Our Antioch New England Graduate School team (made up of a few Antioch folks but many community members) was playing a road game against a blue collar team. Antioch professors, staff, and their friends never really gained respect in Keene until they proved they could play softball. I stood on the field, knees crouched, playing second base, looking up at the night sky, hoping a ground ball would be hit my way. The ambiance of the game—professors competing against mill workers—the respect for sportsmanship, our common endurance, the respect we generated just by playing ball in these wintry conditions, generated all kinds of unprintable, yet oddly friendly banter. These are my lasting memories, far surpassing the actual game result. I have no idea who won the game or how I performed. Rather I recall the settings, the feelings, and the place. I could spend the next few pages providing you with vivid descriptions of a dozen softball fields scattered around the city of Keene and its environs, writing about the weather conditions, the light of the sky, the vegetation, but I can remember few game scores, who won or lost the games, or how many hits I might have gotten. I remember playing a double header against Hubbard Farms in Walpole, NH, on a beautiful grassy field on a mild but cloudy July day. For some reason I played the outfield that day. The grass was covered with thick white clover. It looked like a green and white sea. The air was fragrant and the valley was calm. I know we played two great games but I can’t tell you who won.

What I am suggesting is that for me, and I think for others too, the place as the field of play is as important as the game itself. At the time of play I’m fully engaged in the game situation and potential outcome (I really like to win). I am very attentive to batting orders, counts, the condition of the field, who’s fast and who’s slow, and all the things that an aware ballplayer should be observing. Most good and heady players can describe all of these situations to you in detail, as complex as they might be. As a player you must respond to those conditions if you are going to accomplish your objective—pitching, hitting, or catching the ball. However, many years later, I can only provide details of absolutely seminal game moments, but I can fully describe the setting in which I played. It was the intense focus on the game that allowed me to observe the landscape in such vivid detail. It was the field of play that planted itself in my memory.

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Mitch Thomashow

Thomashow devotes his life and work to promoting ecological awareness, sustainable living, creative learning, improvisational thinking, social networking, and organizational excellence. Currently he is engaged in teaching, writing, and executive consulting, cultivating opportunities and exchanges that transform how people engage with sustainability and ecological learning. In August, 2011 Thomashow became Director of the Second Nature Presidential Fellows Program. This new program is designed to assist the executive leadership of colleges and universities in promoting a comprehensive sustainability agenda on their campuses. Fellows provide executive consulting on climate action planning, long-range financial planning, organizational leadership, curricular implementation, and community investment. From 2006-2011, Thomashow was the president of Unity College in Maine. With his management team, he integrated concepts of ecology, sustainability, natural history, wellness, participatory governance, and community service into all aspects of college and community life. This included construction of The Unity House, the first LEED Platinum President’s Residence in North America, and the TeraHaus, a passive house student residence, as well as comprehensive campus energy planning, an integrated approach to growing food on campus, and a new academic master plan. Previously from 1976-2006, Thomashow was the Chair of the Environmental Studies program at Antioch University New England. He founded an interdisciplinary environmental studies doctoral program and worked collaboratively to grow and nourish a suite of engaging Masters programs, geared to working adults. Thomashow is the founder of Whole Terrain, an environmental literary publication, originating at Antioch University New England, and “Hawk and Handsaw,” a journal of creative sustainability, published at Unity College. He serves on the boards of Orion Magazine and The Coalition on Environmental and Jewish Life (COEJL). Thomashow is a founding organizer of the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (CEDD), a national organization that supports interdisciplinary environmental studies in higher education. He provides ongoing consultation to the Sustainable Endowments Institute and their new Billion Dollar Green Challenge program. His two books have significantly influenced environmental studies education. Ecological Identity: Becoming a Reflective Environmentalist (The MIT Press, 1995) offers an approach to teaching environmental education based on reflective practice—a guide to teachers, educators and concerned citizens that incorporates issues of citizenship, ecological identity, and civic responsibility within the framework of environmental studies. Bringing the Biosphere Home, (The MIT Press, 2001) is a guide for learning how to perceive global environmental change. It shows readers that through a blend of local natural history observations, global change science, the use of imagination and memory, and philosophical contemplation, you can learn how to broaden your spatial and temporal view so that it encompasses the entire biosphere. His essay (2010), “The Gaian Generation: A New Approach to Environmental Learning” provides provocative new concepts for teaching about global environmental change. Another essay (2012) “Where You At 2.0” reasserts the relevance of bioregionalism for digital age learners. A recent essay (2013),“Sustainability as Turnaround” is a case study of his work as president at Unity College. with mandolin.png His new book, The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus (The MIT Press) provides a framework for advancing sustainable living and teaching in a variety of campus environments. It will be available in January, 2014. Thomashow is currently working on two writing, networking, and teaching projects. Improvisational Excellence suggests that improvisation emulates the patterns and processes of the biosphere. It’s a series of essays linking play, music, and observing nature to the paths of everyday living. It is the philosophical basis for Thomashow’s workshops on global environmental change, music and nature, and ecological perception. Wilson’s Library is a series of prose poems depicting extraordinary moments during the history of life on earth. Thomashow lives in the hill country of southwest New Hampshire in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. He loves to explore the fields, forests, wetlands, hills, and lakes of Northern New England where you can often find him on his bicycle. His recreational interests include basketball, baseball, board games, jazz piano, electronic keyboards, musical composition and recording, guitars, hiking, and lake swimming.