Losing a sense of place

This is the shelter Bush Trolls built. Bush Trolls is a group of children, plus a few adults, who go out into the Swedish forest once in a while to do stuff. One of the things we did was build this shelter as our HQ in the heart of the forest.

When we arrived for our first visit of the year in April this year, this is what we found.

The entire area had been clear felled. It was all entirely legal. The landowner gives us permission to use the land, but it’s ultimately a commercial forest. The trees are there to be harvested.

Total dislocation

But the effect was extraordinary. The children were in tears. There was a palpable sense of shock. But even in us adults – grown men who have seen much and aren’t easily moved – the disorientation was unmistakable.

What amazed me was the fact that I couldn’t envisage myself in the same place. There was our shelter, with one solitary tree that the loggers left standing to support it. But I couldn’t conceive it as the same place.

I knew every path in that forest. I knew how it felt and could guide myself almost without looking. It was as if I could feel where each tree stood. But with the trees removed, even the topography seemed unfamiliar.

Like First Nations

I walked around the site from every angle, searching in my senses for recognition. But I failed. It was as if our shelter had been airlifted to another place entirely. I could get no bearing on it anymore.

Is this a small hint, I wonder, of what an Amazonian tribesman feels at a cleared forest? Not so much sadness as total disorientation. You don’t mourn the space. You simply look upon it as alien land. A place you’ve never seen before.

The numb disconnection is profound. We left the shelter and walked, solemnly, together into the forest areas, searching for a new site to make our HQ. We felt like pioneers, a tribe setting off to find a new home.

And the site we left was not hard to leave, because it bore no resemblance to our memories. The old site, the one we all loved, was now locked only in the capsule of memory. That is the only place in which it now exists.

Talking of homelessness, are nomads bad?