Creating acts of beauty in wounded places.
—by Amy Brunvand
Solastalgia: Coined by Glenn Albrecht from solacium (comfort) + algia (pain); 1) Place-based distress caused by the lived experience of negative environmental change within a home environment. 2) Homesickness one gets when one is still at home.
The most radical thing you can do is stay home.
Recently a friend posted a photo of a place called “Noah’s” in a strip mall that has been built on what used to be open space and wildlife habitat along the Jordan River. She wrote, “South Jordan has come a long way from the farm fields near my high school. Now I see that they have built huge business complexes along the Jordan River bottom with cute signs that depict the pushed aside water fowl taking flight. I find it sadly amusing that this place was called “Noah’s.” I knew it was happening, but I am sad that I cannot un-see what I saw.”
She’s not alone in her feeling of loss. I sent her back a link to a website called Radical Joy for Hard Times. This organization founded by Trebbe Johnson is coordinating the 4th Annual Global Earth Exchange that will take place worldwide on June 22, 2013. An Earth Exchange is a way of reconnecting with damaged wild places.
It’s a simple idea. Go with some friends to a place that matters to you but that isn’t as healthy or thriving as it once was. Spend some time there, getting to know the place as it is now. Create something beautiful there—dance, sing, hug a tree, say a prayer, make an altar, hold hands, or whatever seems right. Before you leave, construct the image of a bird from materials you find on the site. The RadJoy bird is a symbol of transcendence and the ability to sing under all kinds of circumstances. When you participate in this simple ritual, what you exchange with the Earth is love.
Writing in Ecologist magazine, Trebbe Johnson compares an Earth Exchange to visiting a sick friend. She explains, “Rebuilding our relationship [with wounded places] we empower ourselves to act on their behalf in fresh, creative ways and even fall in love again with places we had imagined lost forever.” She has found surprises. “Very often, by the end of an Earth Exchange, people say, with some amazement, that they have fallen in love with this broken place. They say it of clearcut forests, industrial sites, and rivers polluted by chemicals from gas fracking. Creating beauty in a non-beautiful place transforms the recipient and the giver alike.”
To get an idea of how an Earth Exchange unfolds, take a look at the stories on the website radicaljoyforhardtimes.org. One Earth Exchange led by Utah artist Kinde Nebeker honored the empty hole where the Sugar House shopping district used to be. Participants discovered beauty dancing by a puddle of rainwater.
At another Utah Earth Exchange, Nebeker describes a spontaneous spiral dance by the Great Salt Lake: Gloria offers some movement. The three women stand inside the outermost ring of the spiral and follow her lead—a slow, reverent Sufi honoring of the sun. We do the cycle of movement twice, it feels so good… Suddenly, I am inspired to drum into the spiral. I run to the spiral’s opening near the lakeshore in semi-theatrical style and begin to walk in the spiral’s open space, circling toward the center. The group falls in right behind to the beat of the drum.
Last year I participated in an Earth Exchange at the Kennecott copper pit (an absent mountain that the artist Robert Smithson hoped one day to convert into the world’s largest artwork) and it’s frighteningly easy to think of other wounded places where oil pipelines have burst into waterways, where freeway sprawl eats up the habitable landscape, where refineries spew out air pollution; where there are plans to scrape open the Earth with immense tar-sands strip mines.
But even though you can’t un-see wounded land, it is still a powerful experience to look straight into the face of environmental destruction and to respond with the radical joy of music, art and dance.
2013 Global Earth Exchange: GEX2013: June 22
Find events at http://radicaljoyforhardtimes.org, or create your own event to honor a wounded place that matters to you.