Burton's Little House in the countryside
Burton's Little House in the countryside
Burton's Little House swallowed up by the city
Burton's Little House swallowed up by the city

Global warming, which certainly has not been a problem this winter,  is blamed for many environmental changes but one of the most profound has only recently been described:

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 we, and our children, 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 a back yard left to sit in.

As Joni Mitchell once wisely observed:  “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

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 in the countryside  to become “home” once again.

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.  It is to create home where you are and where your people might be for the next one or two generations.  One of the most effective ways is to plant trees.  Again and again.  This cure is as old as Johnny and his appleseeds and the French fable “The Man Who Planted Trees” about the shepherd who restored an entire valley by planting acorns.   It had nothing to do with climate change, global warming or the Sierra Club.  It had 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.

The Man Who Planted Trees: _Tree.htm

2 thoughts on “Solastalgia

  1. Whew, Emily! I almost missed this!!! I promise to be better and not skip any days — that’s not for your benefit, but for MINE!! Send me a mailing address and I’ll send you a hard paper copy of TheBridgeWorks with the piece about your mother. It is up on the website.


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