Monday, February 1, 2010

Dog Park: A Place We Call Home

I started to read an interesting article in the NY Times Magazine yesterday—"Is There an Ecological Unconscious." It explores the idea that our brains are hardwired to love and protect the place where we live and have roots. "Heart's ease" is the term the writer discusses with Glenn Albrecht, an eco-activist who has spent nearly a decade fighting the incursion of coal mining into the farms and ranch lands of southeastern Australia. Here's Albrecht's definition of the concept:

"People have hearts ease when they're on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart's ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their own life."

The article then discusses another term that Albrecht uses to describe the feeling of suffering experienced when one is displaced from home and loses one's heart's ease. The term is solastalgia, derived from the Latin solacium , which means comfort, and -algia-, the Greek root for pain. Albrecht invented it to describe feelings experienced by displaced people, such as Native Americans and refugees from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.  He says that solastalgia is

" . . . 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.'"

These two passages really struck me—so much so that I stopped reading the article to think about them. I grew up in New Jersey, and, when I was married, I lived in the Midwest and in New England. And I have been lucky enough to travel throughout Europe. Yet, for reasons that are unfathomable, Austin is the one place where I feel my heart's ease. Dog Park, too, inspires that feeling, too. It's just a big patch of dirt. I could walk my dog at Town Lake or Red Bud Isle, but I don't—because Dog Park is The Place. It's where we go. And I think that a lot of us Parkers feel heart's ease there, or we wouldn't keep going in all weather and at risk of getting tickets.

Which brings me to another point of comparison. The current campaign by Animal Control makes me feel solastalgic. Do you feel it, too? We walk at Dog Park anyway but are alert, not at ease at all. We now have to be vigilant. We feel infringed upon by the threat, if not the presence, of Animal Control and the Crazy Guy. We are all fully aware that our leashless dog walking is against City code, and yet we feel a bit violated and under siege. It suggests, really, how strong—and irrational—our sense of place can be.


1 comment:

  1. I do feel it too! I'm usually OK with the jerks who don't follow the "rules" thinking they'll either smarten up or go away. And I'll pick up a stray poop if it comes to that.

    But now, instead of feeling calm and happy for the most part I'm on edge: constantly scanning for the AC and scowling when I see a clueless bozo disgorging 3 unruly dogs into the parking lot.

    Bah Humbug.


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