Yearning for place

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”
― John Muir

“Going to the woods is going home.”
― John Muir

“What’s the hurry to move in?” my friend asked when I declined an invitation for an outing the evening after I was to take possession of my new house?

Indeed. There was no real, or should I say logical, hurry to move in or be moving at night. I could go out for a few hours, surely. I wrestled with my heart and relented. However, the reason I so badly wanted to be in my empty house was that I have been experiencing a pain at being unattached to place.  I don’t mean to a dwelling, I mean to a patch of land, to a place I feel called to be.

When looking for a new home my number one criterion was that it be near the forest.  You see, I was drawn to stay close to that forest. A forest I have come to love and feel at home in.  It’s a place I find magical, where animals dare approach, where I meditate and escape the world.  When nothing became available I considered other suburbs with forests. I planned to inspect a number of homes for sale in those areas but, when I felt into it, those other forests were not my forest. Not my place. I didn’t feel drawn to be there. It’s not logical, you’re right. A forest is a forest, right? Well, no. This is not about logic it’s about feeling and about intuition and about what I can only call magic.

I am drawn to nature. I love to wander on the beach, in forested areas and the wild places, away from civilisation. I feel an intricate link with the natural world and connected to a power greater than myself when in nature. I feel at home in nature,so much more than I do when in cites and around people.  I have a real sense of the energy of “my forest”.  It’s like I can read the history of that place and I feel welcome there. It restores me to connect with the trees and the rocks and the bush. My new backyard feels like an extension of that forest. I can see the tree tops of it from my back deck.

So, when my friend asked me out and I really had no rational reason to be sitting in an empty house or moving boxes out of a storage shed into an empty house at night, this was the real reason. I was longing to be home. Longing to connect with my own sacred space and to set down roots.  You can’t reason with emotion, with the sacred and mystical.

I know I can live anywhere but to thrive anywhere? Perhaps not. I feel a fundamental pull to this particular spot. At first, I thought it was habit. In fact, the very same friend who asked me out had me consider if I was just in my comfort zone there.  That question took me by surprise and my hackles raised slightly at first.  However, living in temporary accommodation, before settlement, I examined that question closely.   Staying for a time by the river, a place I used to live, I wondered if I’d made the right decision to stay near the forest.  The river was so lovely, the sunsets stunning, the silky texture of the water, alluring. In my gut though, I knew that while I could appreciate the river and its beauty, I really didn’t feel connected there.  Then, living in a funky and vibrant inner-city suburb for a month, I began to question myself again.  I was enjoying the hubbub and the eclectic crowd but the throb of disconnection and being unattached returned.

I can’t explain the draw to the place I’ve chosen as home; except to say, that since I was a child I have felt the energy of places. From a very young age I’ve felt strongly uncomfortable or completely at ease in some buildings and environments.  When travelling I have been reduced to tears when stepping onto battlefields and I’ve vomited as a result of heavy and overwhelming energies of some places. This connection to “my forest” is instinctual and I am so looking forward to seeing what transpires when, in a few days, I set down roots and return home.

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Our humanity is the natural world

To listen is therefore to touch a stethoscope to the skin of a landscape, to hear what stirs below.  George Haskell

Maria Popova’s recent newsletter, Nature and the Serious Business of Joy, resonated strongly with me and I was struck by how shared sentiments can connect us across centuries, borders, gender, time and place. I was delighted to discover Whitman, Thoreau and I share a love of trees. That the work of Michael McCarthy articulates the deep-seated joy I have when in nature.  Nature pulls me. I am drawn to it and feel very at home, embraced, when in the wild places.

Over the years I have realised the pull of nature and my respect and adoration of it can only stem from being of the earth myself and of sharing the same transcendent source as the natural world. Rachel Carson expresses it beautifully:

 “Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity.”

Michael McCarthy has walked the same paths as I. He too has felt, numerous times, that sudden and involuntary love of nature that bursts forth with such “a startling intensity, in a burst of emotion which we may not fully understand, and the only word that seems to me to be appropriate for this feeling is joy.”  And yet what is joy? Sadly it seems a term used only by those delusional romantic types (like me), caught up in the fanciful, magical type of thinking that a weary, cynical populace denounces.

McCarthy weighs the precariousness of joy in our modern world: “Joy is not a concept, nor indeed a word, that we are entirely comfortable with, in the present age. The idea seems out of step with a time whose characteristic notes are mordant and mocking, and whose preferred emotion is irony. Joy hints at an unrestrained enthusiasm which may be thought uncool… It reeks of the Romantic movement. Yet it is there. Being unfashionable has no effect on its existence… What it denotes is a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.

Nature speaks to so many of us, it awakens our senses and, at times, offers us a glimpse into the extraordinary, yet so few speak of these experiences publicly.  We should extol nature’s virtues loudly. Share the revelations uncovered while in the wilderness. Thoreau recognised nature as an antidote to the diminishing of spirit amid a fast paced, ego-driven society — “In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean,”

McCarthy takes Thoreau’s idea further and reminds us of our origins, the roots of our being and our evolution with the earth and our connection to her —

“They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”

We are not separate from the natural world, we do not simply walk upon it, we are part of it as it is of us. We belong to the natural world and ought to rekindle our connection to be once again filled with joy, substance and beauty.

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.” Whitman.