Biophilia and Topophilia: Love of Life and Love of Place

- October 29th, 2018

One of the most tragic natural disasters that I had to experience in the 11 years that I have lived in Japan was the Fukushima earthquake and subsequent tsunami that followed the nuclear disaster in the year 2011.  Despite not being directly impacted by the aftermaths of the catastrophe, the emotional scar of the tragedy was and continues to be engraved in the back of my mind.  Although I was only 14 at the time, the shock of having to leave school in light of the earthquake warning, urgently calling home knowing that my mother must have felt the full intensity of the tremor from the 34th floor of our apartment building, is an emotion of overwhelming fear and panic that I will never forget.  Following the tragedy, I sought a new sense of calm and serenity through traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the botanical gardens near where I lived.  Whereas the nuclear disaster can be perceived as an indirect product of human domination over nature to satisfy our own accumulating needs and wants, tea ceremony was an expression of appreciation for life and a reminder of how it felt to be reunited with one's natural surroundings.

In pursuit of a recovered sense of peace and stability, I decided throughout the duration of middle school and high school to invest in tea ceremony as a means to reflecting upon my role and responsibilities as an individual in the greater local and global community.  As Japan struggled to recover from the overwhelming trauma of the disaster, many communities looked to nature as a place to heal and to restore their own broken communities through civic ecology practices.  The power of urgent biophilia lies in the ability for an individual or community to restore their own broken place.  Communal efforts to restore what was lost are often most meaningful and effective when fueled by a reconnection with nature once lost to experiences of violence and hardship.  Healing by nature is often times not only a recovery of the physical infrastructure of the place, but also an emotional and mental healing by re-kindling the activities that once bonded individuals within the community.

Non-governmental organizations, like Americares, responded to the nuclear disaster by encouraging victims to restore their communities and landscapes through communal gardening as a way of once again becoming present and active in a place that we live and love.  Tea ceremony as a way of distancing myself, both mentally and physically, from the chaos of society and to return to a place of calmness, compassion and empathy, is a powerful reminder that our affinity for nature is innate and that our urge to look to each other in time of hopelessness is universal.

- November 6th, 2018

When my grandparents fled from China to Taiwan during World War II, they were fleeing from a place of hostility, violence and pain, but also from a place of familiarity and emotional attachment, a place of fond childhood memories despite their constant state of poverty.  The war was an unimaginable period of conflict and hate, and unfortunately, my grandfather was a direct victim of this cruelty.  His entire family was killed during the war.  He saw his brother get shot by a Japanese war soldier, his mother tortured to death by the merciless opponents.  Leaving China was equally a physical burden as it was an emotional one and required the strength of brotherhood among members of the military who were also escaping.  To leave everything behind, to begin a new life in unknown territory was daunting to say the least.

When my grandparents relocated to Taiwan, they moved into a residential camp for soldiers and their families.  My grandfather worked as a paperboy while my grandmother worked tirelessly at a doll factory in attempt to provide a better life for their four kids.  When my mother's older sister and brother became ill, life as one could imagine only became more difficult, and a combination of both emotional and financial stress was overwhelming.  During this time, my grandmother decided to grow her own plants on the balcony of their tiny second floor apartment flat.  Although she may not have been fully aware the implications of this act of gardening, it later became obvious that it was a journey of personal healing, of using nature as a symbol of re-growth and hope at a time when both were a luxury.  What started off as small potted plants became an impressive indoor garden that is still being tended to today in a different apartment, with beautiful vines covering the balcony fencing and wrapped around the old metal bars of the balcony edges.  At a time of war, distress and hardship, gardening became the main source of healing, of reviving hope for the future when in a seemingly broken and hopeless situation.

- November 12th, 2018

The Ecological Self.

Despite the importance of this exercise, it is rare for oneself to spend time reflecting on the roots of one's conservation ethic and how one's environmental beliefs and values have changed over time.  I have only recently started thinking about the role of place and both its living and non-living entities in shaping my environmental ethic.  Despite my appreciation for the natural environment and my passion for studying interactions within nature, the wilderness was never a significant part of my childhood.  In fact, the first time I even remotely thought about nature as a complex system and as something that required our efforts to conserve, was during a convention on tree restoration in cities with speaker and founder of Plant-for-the-Planet Felix Finkbeiner.


Upon reflection, I realized that growing up, I had always taken nature for granted.  I assumed that the trees lining the biking trail as I cycled to school would always be there, that the nature park near the apartment that I lived had always and will always inhabit the birds, lizards, and diverse insects that populated the nature reserve and green corridors.  Thinking back, I realized that to a certain extent, my limited childhood exposure to outdoor education, whether formal or informal, could help to explain why I never, until the convention, truly recognized the natural environment as being a critical part of my personal and communal identity, or of having any direct, long-lasting physical and emotional value. 


In fact, it was only after the tree planting convention did I realize that when we fail to value a place for what it is and for both its complex biotic and abiotic components, we risk taking nature and its 'pristine' state for granted.  When I began to perceive nature as an integral part of my identity and the identity of my local community and neighborhood, I realized that when we attach the natural environment to personal, treasured memories and emotions, we allow ourselves to act upon an urge to protect, triggered by a deep appreciation for the ecological services that we benefit from.  The strongest urges are always those that are highly place-based and value-oriented and integrated with a personal response to the place and its inhabitants.

© 2018 by Katie Lee. Proudly created with

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