In a past post, from 2013, I mentioned some neologisms describing feelings about place.

dusk GR

Toponesia suggests nostalgia but adds to it a sense of loss for what has been erased, eroded, or developed to the point it is no longer familiar. When you return to your old neighborhood, for example, and discover that your house no longer exists and there’s a mall there instead, or discover that your old school has become a condominium. Many of us know this feeling: memory conflicting with current reality.

A sweeter emotion–if you can call these emotions (they may indicate self-reflection and consciousness as much as emotion)–is that of topophilia. An article by Hakon Heimer in Environmental Health Perspectives says

The term topophilia was coined by the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan of the University of Wisconsin and is defined as the affective bond with one’s environment—a person’s mental, emotional, and cognitive ties to a place.

This feeling arose in me recently on a trip to New Mexico. The place in mind and heart is Ghost Ranch, which most people associate with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe–her house and studio are there (and are now a museum). But my association began before I knew of O’Keeffe; I was eleven years old, and the ranch was journey’s end of a long family road trip west.


Chimney Rock, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, MN


The summer days I spent there somehow lodged inside me with a sense of place–and space–that felt secure and comforting, despite the strangeness of the high desert environment to a child whose summers generally featured fireflies, long grass, cornfields, and leafy suburban streets. Ghost Ranch embraced me with its mesas curving around the flat, open scrubby meadow where the corral block houses sat. Chimney Rock watched over me. Pedernal loomed mysteriously in the deep, blue-purple distance. I still cannot explain why the place felt, and still feels, like a second home to me. If I believed in the existence of past lives, I would say I had lived there before. Topophilia.

pedernal storm


10 comments on “Topophilia

  1. marmcc says:

    I’m so interested in the connection between self and place, often mysterious and can come out of the blue and have nothing to do with the familiar landscapes of birthplace. I love Rebecca Solnit’s Book of Migrations, which talks a bit about the connections to place. I wish I could remember the name of the book I just read by a woman who is of mixed race tracing her family’s connections to the American landscape. Why don’t I write these things down?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t feel “at home” in any of the places I grew up, though I feel nostalgia (and sometimes toponesia) when I revisit them, a warm remembrance but not a sense of belonging. But I do treasure some other special places. Ghost Ranch is one of them, and Untermeyer Park in Yonkers NY is another…both related to my childhood sense of being embraced by the numen, perhaps.


      • marmcc says:

        Are you from the northeast? I remember feeling viscerally uncomfortable in New Mexico until I got higher up among the pines, and then I felt myself relax. So interesting. I seem to love rocky coastlines — Maine, Oregon, and most recently, Newfoundland — though I was born and have lived inland all my life. I’m generally a small town/countryside lover but (and I hate to be another one of those Americans, but…) I must say, one of my favorite phrases in the English language is “apartment in Paris”…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes–I am from the Northeast mostly. With a bit of the Midwest as well. Which is why it seemed surprising to me how comfortable I felt at Ghost Ranch.


    • marmcc says:

      The book I mentioned — finally remembered: Paisley Rekdal, Intimate, I think it was called.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have the same sense of unjustified connection to Pacific places, especially Hawai’i. It’s interesting and kind of inexplicable.

    Liked by 1 person


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