Who has not, when alone (perhaps wandering slowly along an overgrown path through woods so fresh and green and sweet-smelling they seem virginal; or passing, as a traveler, across uneven flagstone walkways of a quiet, quaint, exotic village, the sights and smells of which evoke a most elemental aura; or sitting in a noisy urban park about whose perimeter rise buildings like towers that obscure the sun, man-made mountains crowded with humanity spilling out onto streets and sidewalks)–who has not, I say, in some such isolated moment, experienced a keen perception of the presence of place, a heightened awareness, an intense acuity of vision, of hearing, of smell, which neglects nothing, but focuses first on one thing then on another until one’s very being becomes the receiver, the reservoir, the receptacle into which the place and all its exudates may pour. One becomes filled, overwhelmed by the place; one diffuses into it and becomes, momentarily, lost in some ineffable union: such experiences are the chief joy and solace of solitude. As often happens at such times, being alone, one may wish that another–someone special, that is, a loved one far away, imagined, or simply anticipated for some future time–were there to share that unique experience.
And when, in the fullness of time and with characteristic generosity and irony, the Universe supplies the “love-of-one’s-life” (whom one may encounter in different guises three or four times during a lifetime, who shares one’s temporarily elated existence and then drifts away–or else remains, finally to wear away affection and staunch the source of passion), then one may return with the beloved to the place of imagined magic, only to find that attention is so diverted that the place becomes peripheral–some vague and hazy backdrop to the one more central, current concern. Eyes no longer focus; ears catch only jumbled murmurs; the other’s presence so overpowers all scents and senses that the remembered enchantment does not–cannot–recur, and one is incapable of explaining to the companion, looking about confusedly for some clue to its charm, why one so loved that place.
A tip of the hat (and apologies!) to Herman Melville