Topophilia

In a past post, from 2013, I mentioned some neologisms describing feelings about place.

dusk GR

Toponesia suggests nostalgia but adds to it a sense of loss for what has been erased, eroded, or developed to the point it is no longer familiar. When you return to your old neighborhood, for example, and discover that your house no longer exists and there’s a mall there instead, or discover that your old school has become a condominium. Many of us know this feeling: memory conflicting with current reality.

A sweeter emotion–if you can call these emotions (they may indicate self-reflection and consciousness as much as emotion)–is that of topophilia. An article by Hakon Heimer in Environmental Health Perspectives says

The term topophilia was coined by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan of the University of Wisconsin and is defined as the affective bond with one’s environment—a person’s mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place.

This feeling arose in me recently on a trip to New Mexico. The place in mind and heart is Ghost Ranch, which most people associate with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe–her house and studio are there (and are now a museum). But my association began before I knew of O’Keeffe; I was eleven years old, and the ranch was journey’s end of a long family road trip west.

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Chimney Rock, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, MN

 

The summer days I spent there somehow lodged inside me with a sense of place–and space–that felt secure and comforting, despite the strangeness of the high desert environment to a child whose summers generally featured fireflies, long grass, cornfields, and leafy suburban streets. Ghost Ranch embraced me with its mesas curving around the flat, open scrubby meadow where the corral block houses sat. Chimney Rock watched over me. Pedernal loomed mysteriously in the deep, blue-purple distance. I still cannot explain why the place felt, and still feels, like a second home to me. If I believed in the existence of past lives, I would say I had lived there before. Topophilia.

pedernal storm

 

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Toponesia and poem

Here is a poem by Virginia Hamilton Adair that demonstrates, perhaps, the idea of “toponesia”–loss of connection with place. The speaker recalls the beloved beach in its decay and in its beauty; she also recognizes that the tide erases all–talk about amnesia!

Buckroe, After the Season, 1942

Past the fourth cloverleaf, by dwindling roads
At last we came into the unleashed wind;
The Chesapeake rose to meet us at a dead end
Beyond the carnival wheels and gingerbread.
Forsaken by summer, the wharf. The oil-green waves
Flung yellow foam and sucked at disheveled sand.
Small fish stank in the sun, and nervous droves
Of cloud hastened their shadows over bay and land.
Beyond the NO DUMPING sign in its surf of cans
And the rotting boat with nettles to the rails,
The horse dung garlanded with jeweling flies
And papers blown like a fleet of shipless sails,
We pushed into an overworld of wind and light
Where sky unfettered ran wild from earth to noon,
And the tethered heart broke loose and rose like a kite
From sands that borrowed diamonds from the sun.
We were empty and pure as shells that air-drenched hour,
Heedless as waves that swell at the shore and fall,
Pliant as sea-grass, the rapt inheritors
Of a land without memory, where tide erases all.

from Ants on the Melon. Copyright © 1996 by Virginia Hamilton Adair