solastalgia (noun): a form of homesickness one experiences when one is still at ‘home’
Glenn Albrecht, who coined the term, describes “the pain or sickness caused by the loss of, or inability to derive, solace connected to the present state of one’s home environment.”
“Solastlagia, he explains, “exists when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under assault.”
Since first publishing the word in a 2004 essay, Albrecht’s observations have gained widespread support, both from pioneer researchers in the emerging field of ecopsychology and from solastalgic readers … like me. I am so madly in love with my hometown and recognize that change is inevitable, that development and infrastructure-building is often necessary and that some of what I experience is indeed plain old nostalgia. But in particular doses, it’s more solastalgic in nature.
The acre of preserved prairie behind my elementary school, for example, stood for something meaningful to me as a child, this stretch of endangered land we burned annually and lovingly observed. Even without contact, even just knowing it was there, it was comforting, fortifying. I recently tried researching its current upkeep and heard that the acre had been cleared. Destroyed. My heart hurt, disproportionately to my relationship with that bit of land. It feels crushing, disorienting — and yet, this example is admittedly a bit wimpy. Rock Island is not my primary residence anymore. It is not a war zone and it is not being hacked open for pipeline or mine construction. Albrecht makes room for wimps like me, pointing out the range of natural and man-made threats that may trigger solastalgia:
“Natural disasters such as drought, fire and flood can be a cause solastalgia. Human-induced change such as war, terrorism, land clearing, mining, rapid institutional change and the gentrification of older parts of cities can also be causal agents. The concept of solastalgia has relevance in any context where there is the direct experience of negative transformation or desolation of the physical environment (home) by forces that undermine a personal and community sense of identity, belonging and control.“
The Mississippi River Water Walkers, then, and other river-lovers (like myself) know this feeling well. On a less-subtle end of the spectrum, protesters charging the Keystone XL pipeline as a sign of “environmental genocide” really get it. Then there’s everything in between.