July 12, 2022

What makes us feel at home: Can we really feel at home outside?

By Lars Gesing
A photograph of Lars Gesing of Lars Gesing Fine Art Nature Images creating photographs in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park, Washington
The Homeward Journal, Vol. 1

 
Tell me this… Do you have that one place you visit that makes you say, “Every time I come here, it feels like coming home”?

To me, that place is Colorado. It’s not where I grew up. I grew up in Northern Germany; Hamburg, to be exact — a port town in near-coastal flatlands with no visceral connection to mountainous terrain. Colorado isn’t where I live anymore, either — these days, I am a very happy citizen of the great PNW republic. 

And yet, every time I see the Front Range, Pikes Peak or the Maroon Bells, the fire in my soul gets kindled anew, I feel at home, immediately. The Tetons in Wyoming are another such place for me. Coming around Oxbow Bend is a homeward journey — even if the only thing resembling a physical home there is the tent I pitch, ruling out physical comfort as the primary binding force between me and my surroundings. No… there’s got to be more to finding A Sense of Home in a rugged environ like the Tetons or Colorado’s 14er country than enjoying the comforts of civilization. 

What makes us feel at home? It’s an age-old question that pierces the very core of the West’s DNA. Its siren song for centuries has led many a man and woman to leave behind the life and homes they’ve known, to travel westward, into the unknown, in search of something to match their grand aspirations. To the most fortunate of them, the western mountains and meadows and canyons and forests delivered a home for the life of their dreams. 

I am one of those fortunate ones.

A fine art nature photograph of a fire tower lookout near Evergreen and Denver, Colorado at sunrise.

IN YOUR DREAMS — "COLORADO'S FINEST" COLLECTION. LIMITED EDITION OF 99.
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WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF HOME?

Going to the mountains is going home. John Muir was on to something back in the 19th century. So was Gary Snyder, who wrote a hundred years later: “Nature is not a place we visit. It is home.” Nature and home — it’s a story of a perpetual search.

Home, I have always believed, is a place of emotional comfort, first and foremost. From my earliest days, I’ve been somewhat uncomfortable around people who I wouldn’t count among my very dearest loved ones. So in some ways, home always was a physical space to escape to, though not necessarily one surrounded by walls. Home was always more emotional sanctuary than physical shelter. 

Once I came to the realization that the two don’t necessarily have to be the same place — though they certainly can be — things made a whole lot more sense. That homey sensation out in nature? It was a feeling of comfort, a step into a space where not knowing what to say was no longer a character flaw but an expression of appreciation, in a space where awe inspires confidence and self-worth. Nature is a place to be myself, a place where experiences become cherished memories.

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” — James Baldwin.

WHAT DOES HOME MEAN TO YOU?

I know that I am of course by no means alone in trying to understand what it means to feel at home. Over the years I have listened to many thoughts and ideas on the matter, as I would never claim my own to be superior or more informed. These are some of the most common responses:
  

"Home is a reflection of who we are, where we have been and what we cherish."

"Home means sanctuary. It is my soft place to land. It is where I don’t have to be perfect. It is a place that evokes a sigh of relief as I walk in. It is a place of warmth and comfort that always welcomes you with open arms."

"A home has character and brings out the child in us - it also brings our children to us."

"Home is the place where you want to be. Home is a place where you can sit with your memories, a place where memories are made. Home is where your heart leads you."

"Home comforts me whenever I am feeling down. It holds so many memories, good and bad ones, which play an important role in reminding me on my bad days that I actually passed through a lot worse and I managed to be okay every time." 

 
If you haven’t noticed yet, pretty much all of these thoughts could refer to an unspoiled mountain meadow just as easily as a townhouse that’s a retreat from the hum drum of big-city life. It makes sense (at least to me)… Home, just like the idea of nature, is about our individual feelings and what we cherish most, more so than the physical place itself. It’s where we rest, it’s where some of our most jubilant moments become memories that last a lifetime. Nature is healing, nature is optimistic, nature is shelter and escape from the tentacles of busyness and haste and worry. So are our homes. Home is where we feel we belong. Nature is where you and I know we belong.

“Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknowns actual or visionary,” Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire, concluding that “there is no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.” I find this to be the ultimate expression of hope.

CAPTURING WHAT MAKES US FEEL AT HOME

“All my life I have been a prospector,” Abbey went on to say of his time in Utah’s canyon country. “I was prospecting for a revelation. For a blinding light illuminating everything.” Out on the westward trails, in the company of the ghosts of prospectors’ past, these days I search for the light illuminating everything, too. When It does, in those fleeting and unparalleled moments when all the elements come together, I feel the elusive Sense of Home — a sense of inner and outer peace, of belief and relief that everything is going to be okay. It’s when the constant drumbeat of noise and stress gets replaced by calm contemplation and all-encompassing awe. 

Those are the moments that can define an inspired life. The resulting photographs are not so much recordings of a time and place but of a feeling of what that place means to us — a tangible connection between what and who is there, and what and who isn’t. It’s those moments, Daniel Firth Griffith writes, when a lack of control breeds a relationship based in intimacy with our place. Without that intimate relationship, there is no Sense of Home.

That’s why the act of creating a piece of photographic art in nature is so much more than pressing a button on a machine. It becomes more about what’s behind the camera than what’s in front of it, the eyes that see rather than what is seen. The frozen moment, the finished photograph, opens a window into the dream you and I share: the dream of going out so we can come home.
 

A Lars Gesing fine art nature photograph in black and white of sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park near Canyonlands National Park and Arches National in Moab, Utah.

THE UNWINDING — "ICONS OF THE WEST" COLLECTION. LIMITED EDITION OF 99.
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About The Homeward Journal

I believe that the timeless beauty of nature is the antidote to a life of haste and worry. That’s how The Homeward Journal came to be. It is a collection of writings that are part romantic naturalist essays in the tradition of Muir, Abbey and Oliver, and part expert advice on how to create awe-inspiring nature-based interior design that celebrates what you love most. At its heart, every piece in The Homeward Journal explores the one feeling we all share: How connecting with the beauty of nature elevates both our spirits and the spaces we call home. Start exploring my artwork here.

Connecting With Nature