Landscapes shaping people

I just started reading River Town, by Peter Hessler, and thought this passage right at the beginning was interesting.

I often heard remarks like this, [that all the women of Fuling had a reputation for being beautiful due to being from an area with both water and mountains, or that people there had bad tempers because it was hot and there were mountains,] and they suggested that the Chinese saw their landscapes differently than outsiders did. I looked at the terraced hills and noticed how the people had changed the earth, taming it into dizzying staircases of rice paddies; but the Chinese looked at the people and saw how they had been shaped by the land.

-Hessler, 6

This reminded me of conversations I’ve had at various points with people from the Midwest. I am from the East Coast (or the Southeast, if you are one of those people who strangely thinks the East Coast only extends as far south as DC, or possibly Virginia,) specifically the piedmont area of North Carolina, and I am very used to being surrounded by hills and trees. In the days when I was frequently having to drive home from Iowa or Michigan during school breaks, I had a definite sense that “home” did not start until I entered the Appalachians and was surrounded by forests again. By contrast, several friends who grew up in the plains stated that they would find it a little scary not to be able to see for miles around. Hills and too many trees would give them claustrophobia. Whereas I found the first description of the plains in the Little House on the Prairie books terrifying and never really understood why they moved out of the Big Woods.

I also suspect that where we grow up or strongly identify as home can have a lot of impact on the color palettes we like the best. People who love the desert may have a much greater appreciation for shades of red and orange than a people from a greener environment.

Any other ways you’ve noticed your environment shaping you?

The only other example that comes to my mind right now is that when I lived in Chile, I was told that the women of Viña del Mar all had great legs, due to the many steep hills and steps in that city. That one is a bit more obvious than perhaps Hessler meant, though.

-posted by Dana

4 Responses to Landscapes shaping people

  1. Mike says:

    I haven’t can’t think of any landscape that has actually alienated me, though I do remember a deep sense of relief, when I was living in London, at the moments when I would escape the pavement for an afternoon or a weekend.

    In general, though, I think I’m just a city slicker: the only surroundings that would make me feel far from home would be a shortage of people.

    On the colors: I read once that of all the colors on the world’s flags, the most common are blue and white — because those are the only two colors we all share.

  2. guyintheblackhat says:

    I didn’t realize how attached to landscapes of a place called “home” I really was until I visited Charlottesville, VA this last weekend (where I spent 7 years of my early childhood) and saw the waving thickets of bushes and trees crowding the sides of the road. I have always felt at home surrounded by the crush of dense vegetation, though most of my life has been spent in the fields of corn and soy that is Iowa. How strange! It’s just like how Germans still think of Heimat as somehow consisting of Bavarian and/or Black Forest landscapes…

  3. TheGnat says:

    Personally, having lived all of my childhood on one coast or another, living in Iowa I really miss good salt air and a beautiful ocean view. Of course, I was raised by two people with a deep love of the sea, so that likely helps a bit. Iowans really don’t seem to have any real sense of the ocean. It’s one of those places I think you just have to see with your own eyes to really “get”. I don’t know if it’s shaped me other than to give me a taste for naval fiction. >.>;

  4. Emily B. Anderson says:

    Although I’ve adapted to California’s dry shrub and palm trees, I am always shocked at how alien it seems when I return to San Diego from somewhere else. Visiting Pittsburgh late summer a couple years back I was shocked at how *right* the lush greenery felt. And as much as I enjoy the perpetual excellent weather, I ache for a real autumn.

    That said, I also have a strong affinity for high mountains, despite not having grown up near any. I feel so happy whenever I am in the alps.

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