One may subscribe to Ortego y Gasset’s statement: “Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are” (see The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Belden Lane for more on this). For me, that may be turned around into: “Tell me the landscape which lives in you and I will tell you who you are.” Recently I had the opportunity to return to the landscape of my youth and was reminded that wherever I go, I am filled with the beauty of that landscape.
For the aboriginal peoples of Australia, the land has two landscapes–one is physical, the other is spiritual (see The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin for an exquisite discussion about this). My experience of the redwood forests of northern California is of these two landscapes—physical and spiritual. In the West, landscape and spirituality are not inevitably interwoven as they frequently are for indigenous peoples. However, that does not mean that everyone in the West is immune to knowing landscape spiritually. If so, I must have missed that inoculation, because I truly am not immune to experiencing this landscape spiritually.
Besides knowing landscape spiritually, there is also knowing the landscape as narrative. The direct experience of the landscape and a corresponding narrative of landscape collaborate to define who and what an individual is. For example, the direct experience of landscape for the Western Apache also includes their history embedded in features of the earth. The sense of place is paramount. Only in reference to the earth can an Apache persist in his identity. The Western Apaches’ “sense of place” and “sense of themselves” are inevitably interwoven through narrative. The Apache landscape is full of named locations. Through the agency of historical tales such locations work in important ways to shape the images that Apaches have of themselves (see Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache by Keith H. Basso for more on this subject).
It may well be, that my personal narrative of landscape informs my relation with it. When I was a youngster, I would climb these gentle giants of the Sequoias and ride the wind.
When I revisit that landscape, this memory floods back into me. Landscape is not limited to a panoramic view, my personal identity, or my personal narrative of the land. This specific landscape is a portal into the numinous. There are many expressions of beauty. This one, in particular, touches me deeply. As in the myth of Psyche and Aphrodite, Soul and Beauty are relational. The beauty in nature that the landscape of the coastal redwoods spotlights I experience as a clear demonstration of this link between Soul and Beauty. Personally I think that the majesty and mystery of the beauty of this landscape was better represented by the Elven forest of Lothlórien in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring than the actual redwood forest used as a location for filming the Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi peopled with the Ewoks. This may well be because the stately and wise Elves better mirror my experience of the redwoods than do the furry short-of-stature Ewoks.
Your assignment is to find and journal an experience you have had with nature that may have helped define who you are; opened up a spiritual association; or spoke to your soul.