the politics of tree hugging

I am once again in a position where I will be moving away from friends to start largely a-fresh. In these weeks leading up to my departure, I have found myself appreciating the little things: many specific trees and plants, rock formations and other features of local landscape that I see everyday. I may have seen them everyday, yet I never really noticed them. Wheres sense of place such as these are often dismissed as being the realm of hippies, they ground much deeper in the politics of space, capitalism and the disassociation it both relies on and attempts to create.

Implied in having a sense of place, is have a connection. A connection to the social, political and environmental. Being rooted in community. We are very much happier when we feel part of a community, feel that we belong. Having networks, being a part of a network, adds to both sense of place and community. We become rooted in place socially, and often so much more. This can foster an appreciation of the local environ — whether this is based on ecological values, or an everyday appreciation of function and form.

I have been reflecting on the associations I have with place — the many places that form part of my locale. These are social and environmental. My work environment is quite aesthetic, and a number of animals have moved back in after prior dislocation. The forms and function of the structures are secondary to me, though they act to reinforce the sense of place I have.

In appreciating, feeling a connection to the small things, I recalled a conversation I had with a counsellor many moons ago. I was heavily invested in campaigns seeking to protect forest areas from destruction — areas whilst far from my locale, I had developed an strong association and sense of place. Some of these areas I had visited and immersed myself in, others I appreciated based on their existence — transcending anthropocentric value. I was having difficulty comprehending the destruction imposed by our species, often for little more than notions of development, progress and capital accumulation.

The counsellor advised I ground myself — literally. To go outside and take my shoes of, to stand on the stone and grass and feel it. Whereas this may sound very new age or hippy, it directly contrasts with the dissociation that capitalism requires. By this simple act of bare foot on ground, there is a physical connection. Much the same was as placing your hand on a tree, running some foliage through your fingers — of physically hugging a tree. There is a connection there. Unfortunately some of us are uncomfortable with this. This can be that some of us can appreciate the natural without this direct physical connection, whereas for others, they are so far removed that they cannot see the benefits of such connectedness.

In my reflecting on the local, on the individual trees, plants and landscapes that have formed my peripheral visions for many years — sometimes drawing in my attention, what is clear to me is that we are far too disconnected from the real, the actual, the natural. I think we lose something of ourselves in this. Taking our shoes off and standing in the grass is a simple step towards countering this. As is stopping for a moment to take in what is around us. Slow down. Take stock. Be present.

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