Each of us has a special place, or places, that we have a strong connection to. This “sense of place” is developed through personal and cultural experiences and knowledge of a particular area. The “elemental” landscape is an important part of these experiences, one that expresses itself on many scales – from the sun on your face, to the changing of the seasons or the impact of earthquakes or storms on a region.
In my exploration of the elements I’ve been formulating an idea about how different places are associated with different elements and how this relates to our sense of place. In this context I have focused on the physical elements of earth, air/wind, fire and water and their expression as natural forces. While all of these elements are found in all places to varying degrees, some seem to stand out as we move from place to place. These are the ones that define an area and how its inhabitants relate to it.
Each of us will respond differently to a place or places, based on our personal history and experiences. There are though some fundamental, subconscious responses to the elements that run through us as a species. Factors such as being hardwired to respond to water in the landscape, as discussed in my blog on neuroconservation and the Blue Mind. Having said that, it will be interesting to see how my “elemental” sense of place, based on my own experiences, connects with that of other people.
The best way to express these connections is through a photo essay. Initially I was going to present several places around the world. I can now see that this would take far too much space. So in this post I am going to cover the place that I live, Tasmania, in some detail and lightly touch on three other places that I have recently visited – the United States, Japan and Africa. These examples should give a sense of the concept I’m developing.
To me Tasmania – the southern-most state in Australia – is a land of fire and water. As an island state, with many smaller islands as part of the territory, Tasmania has a long coastline. Like most of Australia, the majority of residents in Tasmania live along the coast where we are blessed with beautiful water views and a myriad of water-based activities. These activities are also provided in inland waterways, principally through recreational fishing and tourism. Tasmania also gets snow, another form of water, each year. Snow can fall in any month, depending on where you are. Unwary bushwalkers who come in summer can get caught out, unaware that it can snow in the higher and exposed country at that time of year. Recently it snowed down to sea level in Hobart, the capital city. While the snow fell in winter, the last time it reached such low altitudes was 30 years ago. The fact that most of the images taken of Tasmania include water in some form, either as a lake, river or the ocean, is testament to the importance of this element.
Fire, the other element I associate with Tasmania, expresses itself as a natural force intermittently. Fire was used by Indigenous Tasmanians for tens of thousands of years for purposes such as warmth, hunting, cooking and communication. With European settlement in the early 1800’s, both the nature of fire and the attitude towards it changed. Now fire is largely seen as a threat to life and property and something to be “fought”. The potential for wildfires always looms in Tasmania. They occur some place or other each year and people are encouraged to develop bushfire plans, to be prepared. Professor David Bowman refers to kunanyi/Mount Wellington, which towers over Hobart, as an “organic volcano ready to erupt into fire”. The last major wildfire occurred in Hobart in 1967. It is inevitable that one will occur again. Some may argue that largely it is enjoyable experiences and associations that give us a sense of place. So how does fire, which is often seen as a “foe”, fit in? Sharing the experience of living through a fire is one aspect of creating a sense of place. For me another aspect is the importance of fires to the ecology of the ecosystems in Tasmania, hence they are a defining part of the place that I live.
Both fire and water are ever present in Tasmania, although expressed in different forms. To me these are the two elements that define the place that I live. The following photos are designed to provide a sense of this sense of place. At the end there are images from other parts of the world that I plan to develop further in coming posts. I would be very interested to hear about which elements you feel define places that you have a strong connection to.