Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spirit of place or genius loci

Spirit of place or genius loci is the qualities or characteristics of a landscape that make it unique. Places of exceptional natural beauty or interest are usually places with strong genius loci. Glencoe in Scotland, Yosemite National Park in USA, or the Matterhorn in Switzerland are examples of places with strong genius loci.

British Columbia has mountain scenery and many places with strong or exceptional genius loci that rival or much exceed the qualities in the famous landscapes mentioned above. If we get too much of something good, we tend to lack full appreciation of its full value.

If we look at the photo above, we see a somewhat interesting view of forested hills in the background with a dry rocky site in the foreground. It is not a view with a strong sense of spirit of place or genius loci. If we look carefully at the center right of the photo we see some water. It is the sea, and this landscape is perhaps the southernmost deeply incised fjord in the northern hemisphere. The landscape has a very strong spirit of place or genius loci. However to get a sense of the genius loci of the incised fjord you have to be down in the incised valley.

If you were standing where the photographer took this picture what would you do next?  You would probably walk ahead to try to get a better view down to the fjord. When you get to the edge, you find that the view is blocked by trees. The site has been trampled for this reason. The site contains some of the rarest plants and wildflowers in Canada. It is a protected area or BC Park very close to a major city. The park follows the fjord, but this view toward the fjord is the only one the hiker gets on a five kilometer trail that follows an inland location. The management plan for the park recognizes that it contains a high percentage of environmentally sensitive sites and has objectives for limiting the impacts of human access.

The trail system in the park supplies limited human access. However, this five kilometer stretch of trail does not give hikers any sense of spirit of place, so they go exploring toward the fjord and their random access is often over sensitive sites with rare plants.

The solution is to put a new trail closer to the fjord with a few views and other points of interest along the way and people will stay on the trail and appreciate the spirit of place. Perhaps BC lacks the genius to handle its places!

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