31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 8 ~ Wabi-Sabi Spirit

A sense of place(2)Welcome to Day 8 of 31 Days of A Sense of Place.


“On a metaphysical level, wabi-sabi is a beauty at the edge of nothingness.” — Leonard Koren


Some places seem touched with mystery, allure, a spirit of place, or genius loci. Originally a deity who protected the place, now genius loci is defined as a distinctive atmosphere, a mood, a feeling you get when you’re there, or even from seeing a photo of the place.


I wonder, as is asked in this short YouTube montage, “Do the people make the spirit of place, or does the spirit make the people?” And if there are no people, can a place still be imbued with a spirit?


The Tumbler page Memory’s Landscape by Alejandra Pizarnik is a spare feast of poetry, photography, artwork, and collected writing about remembered landscape, nostalgia for place, yearning for home, flashbacks to terrain, geography, vistas, panoramas of the past, of the imagination, of dreams. One video she links to I particularly love, a landscape passing by outside a car or train window.


And this blog, Bealtaine Cottage in County Roscommon, Ireland, is one of the more evocative I’ve stumbled across: the photos of her house and garden, charming and wild, and the writing about the seasons, food, living with the land, spirits of the land (in her case, Ireland).

Calm Things, published weekly, is another blog of ethereal beauty, a spirit that feels fresh, languid, pensive, gentle, easy. Photos, quotes, poems, her thoughts. I particularly appreciate her practice of photographing the same image or landscape over and over again, slightly differently each time.


When I take photos of my garden, I often prefer those taken an hour or so before sunset. Something about the light imparts the dreamy wabi-sabi sense of imperfect, impermanent beauty that I feel belongs to this place.

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And sometimes, the early morning light evokes this melancholy, even desolate, transcendence.

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A few thoughts on wabi-sabi:

“‘Wabi’ means discouraged and pessimistic, while ‘sabi’ means becoming old, fading away.  Ordinarily, neither of these would seem to have a positive meaning. It can be said, however, that the Japanese people have a characteristic sensibility that finds a certain beauty in a gloomy, desolate landscape or in fading colors.” — from website Traditional Culture of Japan

“Wabi sabi acknowledges three things: ‘nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished.’ — Richard Powell

“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize” — Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

“Wabi-sabi presses the absolute nature of permeability in the visual and sensual, so that the fragility and poignancy of conventional beauty lost in the passage of time is made real in the present space.” — from Hermitary: Resources and Reflections on Hermits and Solitude

“Wabi-sabi acknowledges that just as it is important to know when to make choices, it is also important to know when not to make choices: to let things be. Even at the most austere level of material existence, we still live in a world of things. Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom of things.” ― Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Wabi Sabi: Natural Simplicity In Web Design by Steven Bradley, Vanseo Design.

Lots of thoughts about wabi-sabi, by Kathy Sturr at The Violet Fern (Feb. 2015)


What spirit of place lives in your home, garden, community, favourite place? Where is wabi-sabi in your life?


Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.


a sense of place(1)This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poemThirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.



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