I stared up at the stars, their familiar locations glowing in the vast night sky, accompanied only by the deep blues and purples of the glow of the milky way galaxy behind them. Back on the earth, surrounding me in the field where I lay, crickets chirped in cadence. The summer breeze carried the scent of nearby sage and earth finally started to cool down the high desert air that commonly followed the hot days in central Oregon.
That summer, and many following, I had exchanged my bed and roof for a sleeping bag and a canvas of stars, drawn by the lure of adventure that came along with being a whitewater rafting guide for the summer. The intimacy with the desert valley developed over the weeks of guide training and the sub-sequential months and years of guiding whitewater trips down the Deschutes river with my fellow guides.
It didn't take long before I felt at home living outdoors in the desert valley- my senses highly attuned to nature. My fellow guides and I knew when the salmon flies would hatch, drawing robust trout fish and the human-hunters that used their fly rods to catch them. On the river we knew when to pry the guide stick in each rapid to avoid bumping into rocks and underwater rock shelves, and how to line up a ferry angle to work with the current. We knew how to shout over the loud rumble of rapids so our paddle crews could hear us.
Photo credit: Dane Deaner
Our bodies and minds became highly attuned to the experience- our nervous systems had built an intimate connection with the Deschutes river and our natural surroundings to navigate the dangers of the river.
After many seasons of sleeping under the stars in Tygh Valley, I began to wonder what it was about those summers that made me feel so deeply attached to the river and desert. I was familiar with the psychological benefits of attachment relationships in families, and to partners, but I had yet to discover "Attachment to Place". That was, until I became an eco-therapist. A whole world studying the human- nature relationship was unlocked, and my personal experiences of feeling attached to nature now had a name.
Attachment to Place- Where it All Began
It's important to recognize that we experience an attachment to the living, natural world in two ways: first, on an individual basis, like my personal experience shared above, between a person and nature and two; on a humanity-as-a-whole and nature-as-a-whole through all of history (read more about that here).
David Abrams, an environmental philosopher writes that the human nervous systems co-evolved with the more-than-human living world (AKA nature). "The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears, and nostrils all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness" (Abram, 1996). Our senses allow us to build a relationship between ourselves and nature.
Humans have been wired from the beginning of all time to be attuned to their surroundings. This intimate, multi-sensorial relationship with nature has allowed humankind to survive; By tracking predators, tracking animals we needed to eat, predict and prepare for storms, and locate food and water (Abram, 2011).
Photo credit: Jonathan Kemper
This wildness inside of us has a deep yearning for an intimate relationship with the nature; It wants to experience the more-than-human, living world, just as our ancestors did. It is a desire that can't be fulfilled by other people. (Abram, 2011).
Abram goes on to say that our relationship with nature is an essential part of our being that cannot be replaced by people or technology. "Another human... cannot possibly provide all of that rich, wild, otherness, that nourishment that once came from being in active relationship with dragonflies and moon rise and thunderclouds and wind stirring in the grasses... We must return to our roots and the inner wildness that longs for this relationship with nature. There is something exciting, vulnerable, risky, and yet so rewarding about the rugged land, plants, animals, weather, seasonal patterns, and the richness that the relationship with nature provides" (watch his lecture here).
What places are you deeply connected to?
How do you connect with your roots and the inner wildness that longs for relationship with nature?
Photo Credit: Abdur Ahmanus
Cover Photo Credit (night sky): Denis Degioanni
Abram, D. 2011, July 7. Mindfulness in Nature [Lecture recording]
Abram, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world. New York, Pantheon Books.
Dr. Susan Bodnar, a researcher and recent guest on the the Climate Change and Happiness podcast, revealed that many people experience an attachment to special places.
Place Attachment: University of Washington: https://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Place.html