Halfway along the never-ending highway between my childhood home in the south of Tasmania and my grandparents’ in the north, was a magical building known to all kids on the island, as the “Disappearing House”. In hindsight it was the perfect parenting hack for a long car journey. Due to the peculiar shapes of the hilly landscape the house seemed to sink into the ground when approached then miraculously reappear again.
It was on a recent herfstvakantie trip to the Heuvelland – practically in our Maastricht backyard by Australian standards - that I realised just how important hills are to my emotional wellbeing.
Over three days we walked through sloping orchards of ancient fruit varieties, treading carefully between steaming piles of highlander cow dung. We spread picnic blankets on wet grass to watch autumnal forests on hills opposite, hazy from distance and sun. We waited at little bus stops for Arriva minibuses on holiday schedules to emerge, all of a sudden, from behind the hills.
Being nestled in these Limburg hills brought comfort to me for what others have identified as a form of landscape homesickness common to migrants. Last year I wrote about solastalgia, a term developed by a philosopher to understand the distress of lost nature from the climate catastrophe. Another recent study by a geographer and historian shows the emotional importance over the centuries for migrants to remain connected to their previous landscapes.
Sometimes you don’t know you are sick until you take the medicine and experience relief of symptoms. With airline tickets to Australia now in hand, and the precarity of such a trip back to our families mounting as the pandemic graphs rise again, those Limburg hills brought necessary comfort, with their familiar views and valleys, with their soft shadows and light, and with their surprises, that seemed to appear, as if by magic.
Anna Harris, associate professor department of Society Studies; Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.