The back garden is a carpet of bejeweled grass; each blade aquiver with droplets of dew. The windows shine with condensation. I open the door from the sun-room, and dozens of small birds scatter from the feeders. I speak my normal greeting, “Good morning! Sorry to disturb. I will only be a moment.” The sky is a watercolor wash of gray and white. The air, chill and fresh. I pause as I head up the stone stairs to the barn. I close my eyes and listen.
far distant tractor
faint low of cattle
This autumn and early winter have embodied stillness. While I witnessed some good storms, I most remember the uncanny silence. Last year the trees in our garden were constant movement, as stormy winds danced over the ridge and buffeted our little stone house. This year, my attention is continually drawn to the quiet spaces.
In my last post I mentioned a nifty 10¢ word. You may not remember it; in fact, you may not have watched the YouTube video about the word (which was linked at the bottom of my post). Or, you may have. I’ll remind you what it was: solastalgia. It’s a term invented by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht to describe the sense of homesickness you have when you are still at home.
“How can you be homesick when you’re still home?”
Good question. In our technology-driven world, change happens quickly. From one month to the next, buildings go up and what was once empty green space is paved over. We innovate, building faster and more efficient toys that we chomp at the bit to play with. Often we don’t entirely understand the consequences of our new toys, but they sure are fun and entertaining! At the very least, they make our lives so much more convenient. Right?
When our Place changes in ways we don’t entirely like, in ways we feel an unidentifiable sense of wrongness about, it impacts us deeply, both emotionally and psychologically. We feel sad, sometimes despondent and even angry. This is solastalgia in action.
When I returned to Texas, after my years of North American roaming, I decided to live in Austin. I did not want to return to my rural home-town. It was, and is, an economically depressed area. Once abundant with small and medium-sized family farms (a way of life that succumbed to market forces when I was still a girl), the area struggled to survive with limited industry, and offered few employment or social prospects. Austin, on the other hand, with its liberal hippy vibe and robust arts scene, was just what a young rebel needed!
But while I was away, significant changes had occurred back home. My parents had divorced, my grandmother grown increasingly ill, and my father had – unbeknownst to me – sold the land his own forebears had worked so hard to tend. Bit by bit, he had let the land go for housing development. When I heard this, I felt as if someone had stabbed me. When I drove home to see it with my own eyes, I broke down in gut wrenching sobs. Powerless. Feeble. I had no recourse, no way of changing what had been done to the enchanted land of my childhood. No way of upending the houses that now sprawled over fields and barns I once played in. No way of returning the other-than-human friends and loved ones of my youth.
The feeling we experience when we see yet another box store go up on land we love, or a dear tree friend felled because power lines get right-of-way, is solastalgia. It is the profound sickness in the pit of our stomach that tells us something is terribly wrong in our world. It was with this grief and anger that I began my relationship with Austin, Texas: a place of asphalt, constant noise, and the suffocating experience, common to all cities, of being watched (so speaks the introvert). Yet this place, this city with its hustle and bustle, was now home.
I have been fortunate; I have lived in some gorgeous remote (quiet) locations: from the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, to the great Smokies of Tennessee, to the deep wagon ruts of the westward trails through Nevada. These places were very different from home, but they were all wild, and spoke a similar language to the creeks and fields of the Gulf coast plains. I didn’t hear this language in Austin: at least, not at first.
In fact, during my first year in the city I suffered from numerous stress-related illnesses and gave up, escaping to a country hideaway 40 minutes outside of town. But the Place wasn’t finished with me, and as these things often happen, I really wanted (or needed) to learn the language of Austin–the language of the human city. So, within a few years I was back: in the heart of the city and learning how to find Place wherever I am–a journey that began with stillness.
Next week I will say more about this journey; which is convenient, because I will be in Austin for the holidays!
Do you struggle to find connection within the city? Have you experienced uncontrollable changes to your Place?
[originally published 12/13/2016]