In today’s world of urbanised humanity, homes are commonly thought of as a building, or a piece of land to be bought and sold. It’s a common concept to “own a home.” In a university you’d be more likely to hear millennials despair at never “owning a home”. Yet, Arne Næss (renowned mountaineer, activist, environmental philosopher and founder of the Deep Ecology movement) wrote of home in a very different sense. He referred to the concept as one’s Place, where a person belongs and connects to the environment as a “delimited, ecological self”. Lot’s of interesting terms and strange ideas … What does it mean, and how does it apply to a modern-day Queenslander?
Næss spent his adult life writing and postulating about humans and their relationship with the natural world, all while working on his own relationship with nature by spending many years living in a small cabin in the Norwegian wilderness. This cabin, on the mountain Tvergastein, was the centre of his Place. From here, Næss was able to conduct amateur science, observe animal and plant life, engage in his hobby of mountain climbing, and explore the complex needs of humans in their Places. This frames the concept of an ecological home (which Næss refers to as Place), as a place where a person can have an individual relationship with nature. And, as displayed by Næss, a person’s relationship with their Place is not just some abstract, hippy idea of “feeling right” or “getting the right vibes” – although there may be some level of these unknown elements, it is a tangible relationship defined by what a Place can do to fulfil us. We’ll go through some possible criteria for finding our own Place shortly.
From the idea of the ecological home comes the idea of an “ecological Self”. Many of us restrict our idea of the Self to what is directly linked to what makes us individual, for instance my narrowest definition of my Self may include my job, my university degree, and where I currently reside. Sometimes, when we really reflect, we can define our emotional Self by identifying what causes our common moods, and how we’re commonly perceived by others. The ecological Self extends the definition even further. While thinking of ourselves in the narrow way explained above, we allow ourselves to relate with other humans. But, by locating our Place and extending our idea of the self to include our place in the ecosystem, we can identify with all living beings. Næss follows this up by stating that an understanding of one’s ecological Self could lead to an understanding of our meaning on Earth. Rather grandiose claims that I won’t delve into, but it further frames what Næss set out to achieve through his time in his Place.
So, with this brief understanding of Næss’s work, how do we go about finding our Places? We must first define what we’re looking for, and already we’ve hit a pot hole. It’s, unfortunately, quite impossible for me to layout exactly what each of us should look for in our Place. While our basic needs as humans can be quite easy to define (it’s recommended that someone’s Place should have relatively easy access to food, water and shelter), the fulfilment of our social and emotional needs vary greatly. While I may go looking for a place in close proximity to the ocean with a thin spattering of human contact and plenty of trails to feed my desire for hiking, a hydrophobic, extrovert with a passion for golf would have a very different set of criteria. Those of us that find great value in biodiversity and have a good understanding of our place in an ecosystem may use an ecocentric lens, searching for an ecosystem that can house us comfortably. Yet for others, it may be important to identify ourselves in the narrower definitions of Self outlined in the previous paragraph. Essentially, we need to identify what we require from life in order to be fulfilled individuals, a daunting task to say the least. No matter what other criteria we’ve decided upon, the crucial decision can be made by asking the final questions, “Can I see myself spending lots of time here?” and “Will I be fulfilled here?”
Armed with this knowledge we can venture out in, what I deem to be, the most exciting step; searching for our Place. Where do we start? Now, we’re all on our own. It may be best for us to start local, revisit places that we already feel a connection to. Or, it may be best for us to jump in somewhere completely unexplored, journey somewhere brand new so we can apply our criteria to a clean slate. No matter where we begin, we need to be critical and analytic in our approach. We can use our decided upon criteria to create a lens through which we’re able to analyse whether a place is suitable to be our Place.
To give a brief example, I’d like to share one of my experiences in Queensland. My personal search recently took me camping in Springbrook National Park, a rainforest site in the Gold Coast hinterland. My first checkbox was ticked before I even arrived – the site was only 40 minutes from the beach. On from that, the ecosystems varied immensely. I had the ability to explore eucalypt forests in one direction and sub-tropical rainforests in the other. The bird life was plentiful – a Tawny Frogmouth made itself at home nearby and our campsite was frequently visited by Fairy-Wrens that dutifully hopped about collecting insects. The two days of walks barely scratched the surface of the trails that weave their way around the mountain, leaving plenty to be explored. I can definitely see myself spending more time there, but I’m unsure as to my level of fulfilment.
Our analysis of each place we explore doesn’t need to be anywhere near this formal, it doesn’t even need to be written down. We may even be able to make the Place critique a subliminal process. Yet, it can be applied wherever we go in order to get a sense of how we can connect to a location’s natural world.
We are privileged to live in a place where ecological wonders are commonplace. Where, even in this world of rapid urbanisation, we have access to undisturbed wildernesses within an hour of driving. Australia is a precious place in the modern world, and Queensland even more so. So, get out there, do some exploring, find your Place. Who knows if we’ll ever be able to buy a home. We can definitely find one.
Author’s note: This article only aims to give a brief and broad overview of Arne Næss’s writings in an applied sense. For those interested, I highly recommend his works included in Ecology of Wisdom (the bare basics of which create the foundation of this article).