Sehnsucht

At Peyto Lake in Canada’s Banff National Park

At Peyto Lake in Canada’s Banff National Park

I had never heard the German term Sehnsucht before I tried to Google “yearning wild places” a few minutes ago. According to Wikipedia:

Sehnsucht … is a German noun translated as “longing”, “yearning”, or “craving”, or in a wider sense a type of “intensely missing”. However, Sehnsucht is difficult to translate adequately and describes a deep emotional state. Its meaning is somewhat similar to the Portuguese word, saudade, or the Romanian word dor. Sehnsucht is a compound word, originating from an ardent longing or yearning (das Sehnen) and addiction (die Sucht). However, these words do not adequately encapsulate the full meaning of their resulting compound, even when considered together.

Sehnsucht represents thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. It has been referred to as “life’s longings”; or an individual’s search for happiness while coping with the reality of unattainable wishes. Such feelings are usually profound, and tend to be accompanied by both positive and negative feelings. This produces what has often been described as an ambiguous emotional occurrence.

It is sometimes felt as a longing for a far-off country, but not a particular earthly land which we can identify. Furthermore there is something in the experience which suggests this far-off country is very familiar and indicative of what we might otherwise call “home”. In this sense it is a type of nostalgia, in the original sense of that word. At other times it may seem as a longing for a someone or even a something. But the majority of people who experience it are not conscious of what or who the longed for object may be, and the longing is of such profundity and intensity that the subject may immediately be only aware of the emotion itself and not cognizant that there is a something longed for. The experience is one of such significance that ordinary reality may pale in comparison, as in Walt Whitman’s closing lines to “Song of the Universal”:

Is it a dream?
Nay but the lack of it the dream,
And failing it life’s lore and wealth a dream
And all the world a dream.

So what is my yearning? I can tell you one thing right from the start: It is for a place where there are no mosquitoes. Sun-drenched beaches are not anywhere in my dreams. Look at some of the places I have visited in the past years: The Hebrides and Orkney Islands of Scotland, Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia, Iceland, the Canadian Rockies, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

My Sehnsucht takes me to cold, wild places, such as Pehto Lake in Banff National Park (above).

I also like deserts, especially those in the American Southwest and Argentina. I would add Mexico if I were more familiar with the states of the North.

Where I part from the Wikipedia definition is any identification of the places for which I yearn with home. I was born in Cleveland, which I will forever associate with dirty red brick buildings and accumulations of snow that exhibit a chronicle of dog piss over time. Nor is Los Angeles my “home” in any real sense. I like it. It’s where I hang my hat. But it represents the place I would like to escape from—at least for the time being.

No, I do not think I could live in Tierra del Fuego or the Outer Hebrides, but I love to visit them. And I love to spend months planning for my visit. The planning can almost be as enjoyable as the actual trip. It seems I am always either planning one of these escapades or actually at my destination.

That tension between where I’m currently living and where I would like to visit is one of the main motivating factors of my life. I must say, it seems to work—at least for me.