I think any writer who is interesting to me at least has always a very firm sense of place … It is also a very strong sense of belonging to and possession of a particular territory and I think that is true of almost all the writers I am interested in [Blake, Dickens, Hardy].
– Peter Ackroyd
It’s astonishing the Ready-Brek(TM) sense of well-being that a muddy and hilly 5-mile run (washed down with a good chilli and a fat hunk of bread) can generate, isn’t it?
Fuelled by caffeine afore and aft, punctuated with close encounters of the heron/buzzard/cattle kind, I had a cheeky, speedy sally into the winter-sun hills around my home. And it was good.
It takes time – at times – not just to remember, but to re-experience, strong psychological sensations. We can become dulled. When I decided to move to this place, I was hit by a very strong sense of rightness. There’s only one other place that did that to me, and it’s a long way from here. I knew – for the time being – that ‘here’ worked for now. That feeling really glowed again today, just as strong as the first time – or stronger, perhaps, now that it’s fermented with experience.
Our sense of place (which reminds me I have not sufficiently dealt with the issues about our own physical sense of the space around us that I raised in Peepholes of Perception – I will…) is an important one. For example, I was once asked to move to the Balkans; their arid, golden-grey hills sang to my companion’s soul, but in contrast, nothing (save perhaps the flats of the East Anglian fens) could make me feel more ill at ease. At other times, people have all but described certain cities as magnetic – you cannot leave once you come, they say. As Peter Ackroyd points out in his biography of London, some places always feel the same, no matter what you do to them. No matter how much regeneration cash you spend, how many slums you raze to the ground, the locus genii – spirit of the place – persists (my interpretation of Ackroyd; I won’t sully the poor man with my witterings).
Why is it that a sense of connectedness to the land, to location, to terrain, is so rarely discussed in Western culture? We happily (in many cases) import and so acknowledge fung sui principles in interior design or architecture, which must be related, but we do not overtly allow any more than the casual, “it just feels right / funny/ wrong” type comment about towns or homes. DNA research work reveals that people move, over hundreds of generations, hardly at all from the place of their forebears. Could it be that our DNA has a geographical memory?
At this thought, I paused. It might well sound like random rubbish, I thought, but it interests me, and these guys can always bog off and look for more Teletubby pictures (as many people arriving here do) if they’re bored, so let’s see what the magical tinterweb has to say. Would you credit it? Even the imp’s wildest wittering is not original. Ho hum. The upside of this is that there are some interesting theories out there, suggesting that we might in fact have DNA memory:
- like musical or other abilities that we inherit, we might inherit a sense of a place being good for us, because our forebears knew how best to survive in and around such landscapes
- a sense of an individual’s ‘good’ [safe/healthy/fertile] landscapes might thus be imprinted into their DNA
- lots of nuts theories, too….
If you remove the air of superstition, make it all sciencey, does it become a more acceptable thing for you to ponder? Native (the clue is in the word) peoples all over the world live wholly through their sense of, and profound respect for, the land. (Check out Symbolic Landscapes by Paul Devereux – an excellent, absorbing book on ancient sites, shamanism and the prehistoric consciousness). It works for them.
Look back, see where you are and why, where you felt most right, where you hope to be next and wonder why. It doesn’t matter, all said and done, whether it’s scientifically proveable; your own feelings are what we’re dealing with and you don’t need an expert to give you a gold star for them- do you?