Anthropologist Tim Ingold (2011) wonders if we have become so accustomed in a visual culture to encountering environment through books, film, photographs, and so on, that we are “inclined to forget that the environment is, in the first place, a world we live in, and not a world we look at.” (95) This clip from my conversation with Shirley demonstrates that, while we might not always be consciously thinking of how we live in an environment, we are intimately aware of its presence as a force in our lives. Shirley recognizes that the environments of Manitoba and Ireland both require particular responses. Mosquitoes in Manitoba are combated with bug spray, harsh winters in the prairies are battled with layers, and constant rain is faced with a good rain coat. We cannot become completely unaware of the environment as “a world we live in” because we have to change our behaviour in order to move through it (as Shirley explains, “You just have to. […] If you don’t, like, okay, lay down and die.”)
These everyday responses to our environment and regular movements through place build a familiarity with a landscape and its elements. Shirley’s discussion gestures to the process of dealing with the emotions of migration related to old and new environments. Identity and feelings of belonging are connected to the ways in which we respond to the landscapes and weathers we find ourselves inhabiting.
Photo: Manitoba. Courtesy of Suzie Fisher.
In this story, Greg’s first experience of Winnipeg is characterized by the feeling of being in a completely unfamiliar environment. The wind, smells, sights, and sounds made him feel uncomfortably out of place. Geographer Paul Rodaway (1994) notes how inter-related senses provide information about the world around us and mediate our experience of a place. Our bodies orient us, mediating between us and the environment we inhabit.
At other points in the interview, Greg spoke in detail about his childhood memories of Belfast, navigating the streets, attempting to avoid getting into trouble (not always successfully), and bonding with friends. Urban theorists Alvin K. Lukashock and Kevin Lynch (1956) were some of the first scholars to draw attention to children’s experiences of cities and the kinds of emotional connections that are forged between an individual and a place through their childhood interactions with their environment.
In both his book, Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child: Life. Personal Reflections. Poems (2014), and our conversation, Greg expressed a deep love for his childhood home and the landscape and environment of Ireland. The stark contrast of Winnipeg’s environment strongly contributed to his emotional disconnection from the prairie city.
Photo: Just outside Belfast.
In our second interview, I asked Joe and Mary what feels most like home to them. Joe responded that he feels a certain sense of proprietorship in Ireland and feels comfortable there in his interactions with the locals and navigating the societal and cultural ways. He explains that Canada, on the other hand, is home because of friends and family and the place itself has come to feel familiar over time. Mary’s response, featured in this clip, is fairly similar, particularly in the emotional connection she feels with Ireland and the freedom she experienced when moving around Dublin.
Her moving description of preparing to leave Ireland after her visit and looking over the Dublin Mountains illustrates an idea expressed by many geographers: that landscapes are tied to identities and emotionally charged memories. In addition, her discussion of the places she visited in Dublin and how she made her way around the city fits with social anthropologist Tim Ingold’s (2011) concept of place. Ingold argues that human lives unfold along paths. Using the metaphor of a trail of thread, he explains that as people move, they leave a trail. The spaces they pass through regularly and meet with others become knots and these knots become places of significance which bind people in some way. Mary’s choice of words, her description of her connection to Ireland as a “string,” is particularly fitting then, as it conveys a sense of an attachment that spans an ocean, a thread that connects the knots of Manitoba and Ireland.
Photo: O’Connell Bridge, Dublin.
Eileen’s compelling comparison of her relationship to Ireland and Canada with that of her husband illustrates how people forge and maintain different emotional ties in the process of migration. Her description of her gradual adjustment and growing affection for the host country and Ralph’s continued longing for and attachment to the homeland are framed by activities that both stimulate and express these varied emotions.
In this clip, Eileen mentions that “I guess there’s no place that fills [Ralph] like the way Ireland does.” Visits to Ireland are homecoming experiences for Ralph, more than for Eileen. Migration scholar Paul Basu (2007) examines the Scottish diaspora and is interested in how roots-tourists dwell on and travel in places connected to their heritage. He explains that within diasporic cultures there is a persistent sense of displacement and trips taken to the homeland enable people to “reterritorialize their identity, become more bound by place, develop more authentic sense of continuity with their ancestral past, and recover a degree of cultural distinctiveness.” (28) Being in a space can connect us to a sense of self and a past; it can fill us.
Using a phenomenological approach (the study of experience and consciousness), environmental scholar Mick Smith and his colleagues (2009) argue that the world we experience is not an abstract and vacant space, but a “lived world perceived and produced through our emotionally laden activities.” (11) In this case, visits to Ireland, painting, and driving become emotionally laden when they are connected to a sense of home. Migration intensifies these feelings as ideas of where home is located are challenged and shift over time. Distances, borders, and landscapes are felt, and the places that fill us become central to how we understand and identify ourselves.
Photo: Just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Tom’s explanation of the emotional power of traditional music gestures to connections between perceptions of authenticity, memory, place, and performance. For him, when traditional songs are performed as he remembered them or “the way [they] should be played”, they have a strong emotional power that he identifies as particular to those with who grew up in Ireland.
Authors such as John O’Flynn (2009) have examined notions of authenticity and pointed to the problems of excluding certain genres or ways of performing from the categories of authentic Irish music. While Tom does associate authenticity with certain ways of playing traditional music, his description also points to ways music is connected to personal and collective memories of place and heritage. Ethnomusicologist Martin Stokes (1997) states, “Amongst the countless ways in which we ‘relocate’ ourselves, music undoubtedly has a vital role to play. The musical event, from collective dances to the act of putting a cassette or CD into a machine, evokes and organises collective memories and presents experiences of place with an intensity, power and simplicity unmatched by any other social activity.” (3) Traditional music perceived as authentic has the effect of connecting Tom to a particular place and past. Its connection with Ireland and its people throughout the ages motivates him to explore the intricacies of the tradition, educate himself through workshops on the history of the tunes, and pursue those moments where he and his fellow musicians get a song just right.
Photo: Spiddal, Co Galway. Courtesy of Tom Naughten.