Friday, 28 December 2007

River Religion and Solastalgia

River Religion: spring in Australia
selections from the blog of Sylvia Shaw, Brisbane River, Australia: River Stories and Sense of Place
Nov 14 - Connecting to the river is part of a daily pilgrimage, a spiritual and sacred practice of homage. Watching the Spoonbill slurp through the mud... is a measure of reverence for this place and its extended ecosystem from watershed to ocean. The water flowing on the tidal exchange between fresh and salt is the ritualistic dance of this river religion. The sound and sight of birds, lizards, skinks, dog wallkers and joggers, rowers and kayakers, all combine....
Nov 16 - torrential rain plummets heavily spreading its lush thick water across the parched earth. Soaked and soaking, we slosh through the puddles and celebrate the elusive wetness. And the birds do too. Butcher birds, the Magpie family and two shy Ravens come to visit; they're drenched, their feathers damp and droopy. A gang of squawking parrots jet past... The ecosystem is overflowing with renewal.
Nov 23 - green spaces are fast disappearing in Brisbane and Australian cities generally....Despite growing research into beneficial physical and psychological health outcomes of nature encounters, few studies have been undertaken into the spiritual effects of either natural urban or river environments.
Nov 28 and 30 - The river valley is awash with myriad greens - bright greens, gloomy greens, shiney leafed greens, olivey blue greens... all along the river bank the plants are glowing... [but the] valley is fast being de-greened to make way for new housing.... Daily, large trees are being axed with seemingly no attempt to restore habitat and biodiversity.... The Sydney Herald reports 'Marksmen have been shooting sacred ibis - about 60 adults have been put down. Around 100 nests have been dismantled and their eggs discarded....'
Dec 17 - my friend told me she'd seen dolphins upstream in the river and her children were very excited. What a river! Sharks, dolphins, beauty and danger.
...rivercare can extend integrated water management beyond the physical into the psychological. emotional and spiritual ... ecology becomes a sacred ...wisdom...which honours the spirit of the river and traditional ecological knowledges....local poets, writers, storytellers, weavers, and others... share stories with science, poetry with water management, art with rivercare.
Dec 8 - [Since 2001 Australia has been suffering severe drought. The outback has become a dustbowl.] The Murray River, the lifeblood of the country, is dying. In his book When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens when Our Water Runs Out (London, Transworld Publishers, 2006) journalist Fred Pearce... says of the Murray that its death is evident in the giant river red gums that line its banks. 'The trees live up for a thousand years, hunkering down during droughts and then spreading their seeds after floods. But if the drought goes on too long, they die' (p.249). Photos from NSW Daily Telegraph.

Solastalgia: you too can become an environmental refugee
Philosopher Glenn Albrecht of Newcastle University has done extensive interviews in the drought areas of Australia, where plants will not grow, gardens fail, birds do not sing. People "no longer feel like they know the place they've lived for decades," he says; they feel hopeless and lost, like aboriginals forced from their homelands. But it is the environment, with its familiar sights and smells, that has moved. They miss it terribly. He calls this mental state solastalgia, "a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home". In the upper Hunter Valley, where coal strip-mining adds to the devastation, suicide rates have skyrocketed. Clive Thompson, reporting on Albrecht's syndrome, compares it to the "savage depression" of WW2 draftees and Katrina survivors:
"I live in Manhattan, where the globe-hopping denizens tend to go berserk if their favorite coffee shop closes down. How will they react in 20 or 30 years if the native trees can't handle the 5-degree spike in average temperature? Or if weird new bugs infest the city in summer, fall shrinks to a single month, and snow becomes a distant memory?" -- Thompson, in Wired magazine 20 Dec 07
For detailed explanations of solastalgia see Newcastle University news, Healthearth: a transdisciplinary approach to ecology and health by Albrecht and others, his blog, his environmental history of Hunter River; and a Hunter Valley nature photo blog.

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