I am really excited about this week’s posts. I’m going to get heavy on you with something I am passionate about. Sometimes we have to face facts in order to face the work that needs to be done and to inspire us to keep on this path of fiercely protecting children’s right to a biodiverse natural world. So this week, I have created a little series that focuses on the ways we are effected by the destruction of natural habitats.
I hope you will stick with me, that I get you thinking, and that when the time comes you are inspired and have the resources to preserve your nearby nature. We must learn from each other and work together for the world we want to live in today, and the one we want the children to have tomorrow.
Nostalgia: noun. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for aperiod or place with happy personal associations • the evocation of these feelings or tendencies, esp. in commercialized form. ORIGIN late 18th cent. (in the sense [acute homesickness] ): modern Latin (translating German Heimweh ‘homesickness’ ), from Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain.’ (Oxford)
Solastalgia: noun. From the Latin solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain). “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home’.” (source) Coined by Glen Albrecht
The word solastalgia came into my world very recently, but the concept, sadly, is not new. Feeling a sadness when we discover that a natural place we loved as a child, where a special event in our lives happened, or even a grand natural place we have heard about, but never experienced could cause these feelings. I can think of blackberry patches I gorged on that are now strip malls, coral reefs I explored around that are now dead, and the fig trees in my yard my less than easy to get along with neighbor destroyed last week (illegally I now know, btw).
Then, if I think of the plastic in the Pacific, burning forests in Indonesia, or melting ice caps, on one hand I just want to go back to bed and on the other, start a revolution! These are all experiences of solistalgia for me, but these feelings aren’t limited to adults or the past and are perhaps even more true to definition in children’s lives. At the time, I didn’t have this word to describe the story I’m going to share, but it is a perfect example of how children can feel this confusing emotion.
Today’s story is of my personal experience with children and solastalgia in the hopes that now that we have a word for it, we can help diminish these type of experiences in our own students’ and children’s lives. If I knew then what I know now, I would have done everything I could to prevent the event that I am about to share.
Setting the Stage: My former classroom was idyllic. It was an independent building that had a great little garden right outside our door, floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the garden and woods that bordered it. We had abundant natural light and often kept the lights off, there was a screened in porch that the children could move to freely to work and we often had the windows open letting in the sounds and fresh smells of the woods behind. About 5 or so years ago, after diligent land mitigation work by a group of parents who insisted that the school needed a playing field in the watershed that we bordered, it was decided that a field would be built where these woods were.
Then it Happened: The long process didn’t seem like such a big deal and the teachers weren’t consulted or really involved. Then the deforestation began. Picture the rumbling and crashing of bulldozers ploughing through the woods, how the building and windows would shake with every tree that fell, and a deep vibration that shook your core, physically and emotionally, with each lost tree.
As if that, and trying to teach during that, wasn’t disturbing enough, now picture a classroom of 1st and 2nd graders, some in tears, because they were upset that trees were dying and the animals were losing their homes. They realized this with the first crash and were grief stricken. How do you explain to them, yeah sure, don’t worry about native biodiversity and habitat destruction, your well meaning parents are giving you a field to run around on! I don’t think so.
My heart was breaking on so may different levels that week and still does a bit when I think of it. For the loss of botanical and biological life, for the children’s loss, for the well intended ignorance of the school and parents, because I didn’t stand up for the woods, for the loss of natural beauty and discovery that the woods brought to us, for the children’s right to nature, and for one more piece of land destroyed for self serving interests of a small group. This story is what I think of more than anything when I think of solastalgia.
St. Thomas, USVI
The Aftermath: In the end, and I don’t know why for sure, but that field was never a good place to be. It was really hot, still, and muggy, was always full of no-see-ums (teeny voracious biting gnats), it held water, and the children were bored and would fight when they played down there. It was boring. It was just grass, nothing to explore or do.
No life beyond and occasional rattlesnake skin left behind. (I always thought this was funny because an animal adults fear around children would leave its reminder that no matter what, nature will still prevail.) I like to think that the nature spirits of the felled trees and displaced animals put a curse on the field. I’ve never told anyone that before, but it’s what I’m sticking with.
San Diego, CA
I’m not bringing this up to be a bummer. I promise!! I know this experience is not unique and its is happening everywhere. I want to help you be able to foresee the results and perhaps prevent or diminish them in your own school yards and students’ lives. This experience is what I hope you will think of if your school or community is proposing destruction of native habitat for the interests of one small human group.
I hope that you will draw on your own strength, love, nostalgia, and experiences with solistalgia and do what you can to protect the bits of nature we have in our urban and suburban environments. Protect it for the children, the animals, the plants, for the quality if life in our communities, and for biophilia (our genetic predisposition to love nature).
If I knew then what I know now, I would have fought the field proposal with the idea of creating nature trails, areas for loose parts play, and a fort building section. I would have presented the developmental research on the importance of wild play and creativity that I am so much more well researched on now.
I would have shown examples of schools across the United States and Europe that have created these types of naturally integrated low impact play-scapes and how they benefit physical and emotional health, how they improve academics, boost self esteem, and decrease behavioral disorders and incidents. How they promote discovery learning and connections with local flora and fauna, the importance of nearby nature in childhood, and most of all how the preservation of natural habitat benefits all life.
Now I work everyday to bring the knowledge of nature’s importance in childhood to adults and I ask, What will you do?
Do you have any experiences with solastalgia?
Share your tips for preserving natural habitats in our neighborhoods and schoolyards!
Seeds to Sprout:
Glenn Albrecht’s research blog: Healthearth
New York Times article on solastalgia: Is There an Ecological Unconscious?
Artistic response to solastalgia: Interview with and images by Alicia Escott
Lost Cities: an Australian Radio Broadcast on solastalgia
Neptune Beach, FL