What Home Feels Like, Reconsidered

Why do so many of us fall in love with the wide open spaces? There’s a theory.

Advertisements

FoulkewaysAugust01Back east visiting my aged mother, I find myself again in that verdant country in high summer.

Once long ago, growing up in the Midwest, I loved these steamy late-summer days. They spoke to me of indolent lassitude, of the seemingly endless stretch of uncommitted time. I tried not to think of the start of school, only weeks away.

One of my favorite songs paints a word picture of this pleasant torpor induced by humid heat:

It’s a lazy afternoon
And the farmer leaves his reaping.
In the meadow cows are sleeping,
And the speckled trouts stop leaping up stream
As we dream

FoulkewaysAugust02Today, I took a short hike in the woods behind that meadow. For many years, it seemed like a luxury to take a long walk under such a canopy of trees, with the crunch of dead leaves underfoot and the wisps of fragile greenery brushing at my ankles.

I texted these pictures to my daughter in Florida. “I miss forest,” she wrote back.

“I miss mountains and sagebrush,” I replied.

After spending several summers in our Wyoming house, I realized that the tree-lined New England back roads that I used to find charming had begun to close in on me and now seemed vaguely threatening. I was amused to find that another Wyoming transplant, the writer Annie Proulx, had the same reaction.

“Trees bothered me,” she wrote about Vermont in an essay after she moved  to Wyoming,  “their dense shade, their impenetrable jungles of seedlings, the claustrophobic looming that cut off all but a small piece of sky.”

WheelbarrowsA few years ago, shoving our rusty wheelbarrow across the rocky ground beside the house, I suddenly had a vision of an old picture I had seen of my grandmother. She was a Nebraska farmwife, and told me about the land of coyotes and rattlesnakes, and about leading my young mother and her brother on hikes for picnics on top of the tall bluff. I learned a few years ago (to my surprised delight) that her husband, my grandfather, grew up in Casper, in northeast Wyoming.

Is it a mere coincidence that I experienced a conversion, late in life, to a deep love for that desolate scrub-covered landscape beneath mountains and under an endless sky? Or is it written somewhere in my genes, inherited from that grandfather and grandmother?

Being a retired science writer, I couldn’t resist looking it up.

GreenGenes082815I found this review article, which I got around to reading while my husband was somewhere out there on Brooks Lake fishing with friends.

“[I]t is commonly assumed that restorative responses triggered by exposure to natural elements and settings are ultimately adaptive traits originating from our species’ long evolutionary history,” wrote Joye and van den Borg in 2011, in their analysis of the psychology of landscape preferences.

One theory, they said, is that we humans like wide-open spaces surrounded by a defined border because, harking back to our distant ancestors on the savannah, we find them non-threatening. They are not frighteningly endless; they have a boundary, and the trees have the promise of forage. But being able to see open land around us, according to the theory, gives us ample opportunity to detect threats. (Anyone who has hiked in grizzly country can appreciate this.)

This doesn’t account for my exultant sense of the transcendent as I watch a leaden bank of storm clouds move across the mountain peaks, followed by a rainbow. I wouldn’t see something like this in Connecticut.

Whatever the reason, I’d far rather be in this kind of landscape now, whatever the season. No contest.

RainbowView

© Lois Wingerson, 2016

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Save

Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

3 thoughts on “What Home Feels Like, Reconsidered”

  1. A good theory….thanks for the memories. Wide open spaces or quiet walks in the fields and woods of my youth were some of the best times. One day, my wife and I plan to seek out the open spaces. Dubois is in the short list.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s