This month, I’m writing words and posting images relating to the landscape of memory. I hope to write poems most days and also share photos, quotes, and more prosaic thoughts related in some way to memory, nostalgia, longing for place, remembering and forgetting, landscape, dreamscape, landscape’s memory and memory’s landscape, the intersection of the layered historical physical world with personal memory, the frames that both landscape and memory use to contain and order our focus, the landscape of childhood, the landscape of devastation, how memories lie and tell the truth, the fragmentation of memory, how landscapes shape us and our memories, and so on. All the posts will be linked to the Introductory Page as they are posted. Thanks for visiting.
Today, I’m thinking about designed gardens and natural landscapes that invite and call forth melancholy, contemplation, and sadness instead of pre-empting it or eliminating it.
“‘In contemporary society … balance has been lost, and the emphasis is firmly upon the so-called positive emotions such as happiness and joy, while sadness and melancholy become marginalized …’ Landscape architecture and garden design have ‘the opportunity to contribute to the emotional wellbeing of the world through the shaping of places which foster contemplation. Designing spaces which invoke melancholy and sadness allows for an emotional equilibrium in the landscape, as opposed to one which overloads the compulsion for happiness.’
“From my big green chair facing a wall of windows, I spend long hours looking out at my garden, in all seasons, and contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, maturity, senescence, and death. Especially as I grow older. No, I’m not depressed. And as I age, I’m happier and more satisfied than ever before.”
— James Golden, garden designer and writer in Planthunter, 30 April 2019, quoting also Jacky Bowring’s Melancholy and the Landscape: Locating Sadness, Memory and Reflection in the Landscape
One landscape that I’ve mentioned before (here, here) is the Path of Life in Windsor, Vermont, conveniently located next to Harpoon Brewery Taps & Beer Garden. It’s got melancholy baked in, because life itself does, especially in later years, as James Golden suggests, but sprinkled throughout from the very beginning like bone-powder fairy dust for some of us.
Along the Path of Life any station might evoke sadness or melancholy, from birth through learning, adventure, creativity, community, ambition, etc., all the way to re-birth, but Sorrow strikes me as an obvious place to start. Like Forgiveness and Solitude, part of the design references not just the land but the endless sky.
Solitude, also with a sky component, can sometimes feel like exile, or it may be bittersweet.
I’ve discussed the Contemplation stop on the Path of Life at length previously, but here’s a glimpse of a spot designed for not only meditation and contemplation but remembrance as well; many people leave a token of themselves, their pasts, their losses, their loves, what matters to them, including photos of loved ones missing in a military action, photos of grandparents, parents, and children, postcards, wedding photos, money and gift cards, jewelry, clothing, breast cancer bracelets, rocks (which many people customarily leave on gravestones as well), and more.
Then there’s Death, a stark stop on the Path, and a reminder, if only for a moment, of our inherent connection to the land, not only every day we live, eat, and are sheltered by it, but every day beyond that. I’m not sure whether it’s better to visit on a dark day or an incongruously cheerful one.
And Re-Birth, which might or might not feel melancholic; I find the landscape, with its view toward Community, far down the hill, to be beautiful and bare, and the fence separating it from the rest of the Path a tad distressing.
Below are a few other landscapes that for me feel melancholic, brooding, moody, whether designed that way or not. Abandoned places and abandoned things, even the most trivial things, often invoke desolation; also (for me) tall grasses, motels, and certain qualities of light. I think there are universally melancholic places, and many particular ones, derived from our personal experiences, memories, longings, and losses.
These are some places (and photos) I find welcoming of grief, mourning, woe, gloom, despair:
“With this expansive and meaning-imbued terrain the landscape holds within it the natural habitat for melancholy, as the locus of places of contemplation, memory, death, sadness. Yet, the place of melancholy with the landscape is one which is often resisted, marginalized and edited out.” — Jacky Bowring, again from Melancholy and the Landscape: Locating Sadness, Memory, and Reflection in the Landscape (2017)
Featured image: Forgiveness, Path of Life, Windsor VT