Solastalgia–a pining for a lost environment or a state of homesickness when still at home. This word is derived from solacium (“comfort”) and algia (“pain”) and coined by Professor Glenn Albrecht in Australia in his research in Environmental Studies. He has been studying Australian farmers displaced by climate changes that have rendered their land and homes uninhabitable dust bowls. Their despair is losing not just their livelihoods but more emphatically, the familiarity and solace of surroundings lasting for generations of family members. They become lost souls at home.
It is easy to dismiss talk of “home” in this modern day as sentimental hogwash. When we can travel globally in a matter of hours and via computer can arrive in anyone’s backyard, living room or even bedroom, “home” seems an outmoded concept.
Yet human beings thrive on predictability, stability and familiarity. When home no longer resembles home, when the birds no longer sing as they once did, the native flowers no longer bloom, the trees no longer move in the breeze, where can we seek solace and comfort?
We are homesick right in our own back yards, if there is still a back yard left to dwell within.
As a child, one of my favorite books was Virginia Lee Burton’s “Little House”, written in 1942, about a cottage built sturdy out in the countryside to last for generations of one family.
” The Little House was very happy as she sat on the hill and watched the countryside around her. She watched the sun rise in the morning and she watched the sun set in the evening. Day followed day, each one a little different than the one before… but the Little House stayed just the same.”
As the years go by, more houses are built near by and then a town surrounds the cottage, and finally it is engulfed in the noisy, smelly, sooty, smoky city.
Eventually a great-granddaughter finds the Little House and moves it out far into the countryside to become “home” once again.
Voltaire reminded us to cultivate our own garden and more recently, Joni Mitchell observed: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” How many live somewhere that looks like it did 20, 60, 100 years ago? How many would recognize our childhood homes if we drove by now? How will our children remember “home”?
I have found one cure for solastalgia — create home where you are and where your people might be for generations to come. One of the most effective ways is to plant bulbs, bushes, flowers and trees. Again and again. This cure is as old as Johnny and his appleseeds or the French fable “The Man Who Planted Trees” about the shepherd who restored an entire valley by planting acorns.
It has to do with restoring life on the land. Home is more than just the boards and doors and windows and fireplaces. It is the earth we steward and the care we provide.
Solace is available for the homesick because of the capability of our hands and hearts.
The Man Who Planted Trees: