Sanctuary in Small Places

Finding room to imagine a better world

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Years ago I was lucky enough to spend most of one winter in a wooden hut. I sat in an information booth on a California mountainside, giving directions to skiers headed off into wooded trails. While I do like talking with folks, I must admit that I particularly appreciated bitter cold and big storms that year. When people stayed home, I had the hut to myself. I reveled in the uncluttered space and wide-open hours. I wrote letters and poems, and read long books like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment straight through. I had space to think about the big picture instead of constantly attending to the details of my life. My winter in that simple plywood structure expanded the way I thought about time.

Huts were actually the original inspiration for this issue’s cover section. Over the past year we noticed an increasing number of magazine articles and books about small dwellings. From do-it-yourself shacks to tiny trailers, from the not-so-big house to the tree house, these small spaces seem to have captured the American imagination. In a season of holiday rush—particularly this year with the war in Iraq still raging, and red and blue Americans alike (but especially blue) suffering a post-election daze—the appeal of small, soothing, manageable places seems natural.

Given our uber-busy culture and often-violent world, sanctuary can feel like a faraway notion. While longing for it has been criticized as a desire to hide from reality, I think sanctuary is itself a reality worth nurturing. As a people, a nation, and a world in need of peace, we have a lot of work to do. I hope that in the midst of that work, you will take the time you need to reflect on what is important to you, so that you can envision and articulate and then help create the kind of world you want.

 

I’m pleased to introduce you to the newest members of the Utne editorial staff. Editorial assistant Laine Bergeson—who has wide-ranging curiosity about the world and a love of good writing as well as baking—started as an intern, worked as our freelance fact checker for several years, then joined the staff full time last spring. Senior editor David Schimke arrived at Utne in October. With a passion for politics, jazz, and a good debate, he is a veteran of the alternative press, including seven years as a writer, columnist, and editor at Minneapolis’ City Pages. We’re pleased to have them on board.