In the month of January, I witness blooming flowers – and experience a nauseating surge of solastalgia.
There is a particular queasy disquiet that comes from looking at blossom in January. Or daffodils just weeks after Christmas. At seeing catkins dangling from trees that are still bathed in dark from about 4.30pm. It is an uncanny sense that something here isn’t right. I get it, too, in August, when the blackberries have already ripened into dust, before the new school term starts. Or when I hear birdsong under a yellow streetlamp.
Maybe this is simply the outdoor version of complaining about Easter eggs being sold in stores in January. It seems to occur every year, yet we still seem surprised each time. It’s possible that daffodils have always emerged as students complete their Ucas applications, and blackberries have always been available in July. Perhaps my memory is just deceiving me.
But I do feel it. During a walk through a nature reserve this week I felt something like dread, licked by something like hope, as I saw pink blossom on a bone-grey tree. I was recently introduced to the term “solastalgia”, an Australian word that sits somewhere between homesickness, sadness at environmental destruction and a sense of impotence in the face of change. Despite being an urban resident, who learns about 97% of what she knows about the land from listening to The Archers, I am still not completely out of touch with my natural environment.
I am unsure if there exists a term to describe the sensation of being perplexed when our bodies react unconsciously to variations in the weather, season, or climate that we, as city-dwellers who take public transportation, consume pre-packaged meals, and work under artificial lighting, do not consciously acknowledge. If there is a word to capture this discrepancy that causes us to feel aroused in March even without any visible signs of spring, or sorrowful in autumn despite disregarding the changing leaves, then I am not familiar with it. But I experience it deeply, down to my core.
Nell Frizzell is the writer of “Holding the Baby: Milk, Sweat and Tears from the Frontline of Motherhood”.