I have been thinking a lot about landscape lately. Go figure. But these particular thoughts have been different. And I have been turning them over and over again like a pile of autumn leaves—gathering my thoughts, then jumping into them to see how they fly, then gathering them once again. This in part because I have been given the opportunity to write an essay about landscape and in part because of my recent conversation with Beth Kephart.
Much of what Beth said resonates for me. But especially this: I would suggest that what happens [when we become familiar with a place] relates to a sense of belonging. When we belong somewhere, we can slow down, take note of receding details, stand there and watch the shadows without having to snatch up the exotica. Time within a landscape yields a depth of understanding—of the place and of ourselves. Yes! Yes yes yes! I couldn’t agree more—I couldn’t feel the truth of this in my bones more—and I have been wondering why this is true. I am especially curious about why, out in a landscape we know and love, we are able to gather that greater depth of understanding of ourselves.
My daughter recently reminded me the air we breathe was once inside the leaf of a tree. We inhale as the trees exhale. Such a simple truth, such a simple exchange, and yet—it means everything. It means we are connected.
I feel this connection when I go into my woods, and trek down to my river. I feel my senses—my ears and eyes and nose and skin—open wider and grow stronger. And in that open state, I am able to take in things like a broken egg in a nest, a pattern dug into the bark of a tree, a rock formation, a bee hovering over a flower—those small, amazing details that live in abundance throughout nature. I once spent a morning deciphering the footprints of a red fox along a trail, following it to the river where another fox joined it for a drink, and then back to the trail. By building a relationship with a place and organically allowing my senses to become wildly alive, I am then able to turn my attentions inward, to begin to recognize my own landscape, to take in one tiny detail that is a part of me. My relationship with landscape has been a pathway to my salvation—or my selfation as my husband recently coined. And this, I believe, is why.
We are able to mimic the way we see the details of landscape as we begin to find and name and celebrate the tiny parts of ourselves that make us who we truly are.
I would love to hear how other people find that depth of understanding of themselves…
With thanks and gratitude to you, Beth, and to you all.