Friday, December 21, 2007

On solastalgia

Sitting by the window early this morning with my son who was nursing a slight cold, I looked over the tree tops overlooking our bedroom and reflected on how beautiful mornings really looked – if you actually cared to get up and look – I never do and had it not been for the circumstances, we would be fast asleep. The sealed windows effectively shut out most of the chirping of the birds, but one can only imagine the activity that precedes and heralds the beginning of every day. It also left me thinking whether our children would get to enjoy mornings as much as we do or would the pressures of events like the slow warming of the globe obliterate mornings such as these.

Wired magazine reported on research conducted by Glenn Albrecht – an Australian professor of environmental studies at the University of Newcastle – on how pockets of population in the Australian outback are psychologically reacting to the growing denudement of the forests, changing landscapes and the exploited outback around them. His research concludes – and frighteningly so – that peoples as a whole are starting to feel sadder – a new type of sadness – of displacement similar to the feelings felt by indigenous populations when they were moved forcibly or otherwise from their original lands. His research indicates that familiar markers of landscape are changing so fast that even over a period as short as a lifetime, humans are starting to acutely feel and experience the psychological effects that result from a loss of once familiar environs. The change in ones immediate environment is manifesting itself in familiar neural signal pathways from our sensory organs to the brain being distorted and re-wired – resulting in a mental tension and a sadness that is slowly gaining over peoples the world over. He has created a new word to describe this syndrome – solastalgia (a linguistic mash-up from ‘solacium’ meaning comfort and ‘algia’ meaning pain). The word seems to eerily bring up references to nostalgia and the feeling he describes seems to be close to nostalgic – ‘a pining for a lost environment’ or a ‘form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home’…


This morning, we waited for the sun,
our son and I,
him, with a minor infection,
me, a balancing act.

We parsed the grays,
tried giving life to forms,
even leavened the wisps.
The clouds did not listen.

The trees at the edge
were nude from the wind,
contrasted lightning skywards.
Solidity a testament.

Our window small,
the moment brief,
our symphony short.
In the dawn’s slow march.

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