The Loss of Heart’s Ease

HERD ABOUT IT?

by Ana Grarian

From: “Is There an Ecological Unconscious?” NY Times Magazine Sunday Jan 31, 2010 Theres a scholar who talks about hearts ease, (Glenn) Albrecht told me as we sat in his car on a cliff above the Newcastle shore, overlooking the Pacific. In the distance, just before the earth curved out of sight, 40 coal tankers were lined up single file. People have hearts ease when theyre on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of hearts ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life. Australian aborigines, Navajos and any number of indigenous peoples have reported this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced from their land. What Albrecht realized during his trip to the Upper Valley was that this place pathology, as one philosopher has called it, wasnt limited to natives. Albrechts petitioners were anxious, unsettled, despairing, depressed just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley. Only they hadnt; the valley changed around them.

In Albrechts view, the residents of the Upper Hunter were suffering not just from the strain of living in difficult conditions but also from something more fundamental: a hitherto unrecognized psychological condition. In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: solastalgia, a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root algia (pain), which he defined as the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home.

This article reached right out and grabbed me. This explanation of what I have felt for decades after my rural hometown was inundated with housing developments, and what I increasingly feel today, as my rural CNY is held hostage by Industrial Agriculture and soon the gas industry, and as I am under self-imposed exile to a nearby city. It is a constant heart ache, physical and relentless. A desperate “WHY?” when others don’t understand as yet another Wally World gets built. When coming down the highway from up on the hill, and I round a corner that exposes the slash of the city built into the mountainside, that so much resembles the horrible white scar tissue of an old wound, “Man was not meant to live above the canopy I say to myself”.

A few years ago driving home to the farm after work, reaching the home stretch was such a relief. Those wide open fields along empty roads allowed my heart to swell and my lungs to breathe. Once our 100+ year old maples were in sight, towering above the homestead, life was right again. I can relive it over and over in my mind, but now it hurts, because it is only available in memory.

I suppose to some extent I can now identify with those folks who mourned the loss of the Twin Towers. Their landscape, their visible mountain was annihilated in a ghastly event. Do you suppose we could use that memory to allow city folks to understand the heart ache of watching mountain top removal mining slowly eat away at our landscape like some fast moving, rotting lesion on the body of the earth?

My father was ill much of my life. A debilitating depression and frequent panic attacks often kept him rooted to the kitchen table. Dad was from the Adirondacks, and though we lived in a beautiful oasis at the end of a dead end street in a still mostly rural town outside of NYC, I now wonder, “If we had moved back to the mountains, could he have been whole again?”. My extended family, all of us with a variety of quirks and mental glitches, are all drawn to the mountains where we vacationed as youths. We put aside as best we can the differences between us, for the unvarnished pleasure of those pine lined hills and sandy beaches, though we still long for the remote cabin of our youth.