Oh, My, Do I Ever Have Fernweh

Well, hello! It’s been too long since I dedicated time to the practice of writing and sharing my thoughts. It’s not meant as an excuse, but you should know that I have recently been struggling with a near-debilitating case of fernweh. Let me explain.

It all started at work last spring, when Billie introduced me to Leoh. To be clear, Billie is a person, and Leoh is an app. Perhaps THE BEST Chrome extension ever. It’s free and easy to download and install from the Google Chrome store. Once it’s up and running in your Chrome browser, Leoh will open each new tab with an image pulled from its archived trove of crisp pictures – or from your own pictures if you tell it to.

And that’s where the fernweh comes in. According to an NPR piece this spring, fernweh is a German word that is roughly translated as “farsickness.” It’s a longing like homesickness – but for a place you’ve never been.

Maybe you feel that way about an island or a country or a countryside: you’ve thought about it or heard about it or seen it up close. Yet while you’ve never been there, you feel a rise of emotion just thinking about it. When I watch the Lord of the Rings movies, I grow heartsick just thinking how much I want to go to New Zealand right then and there. Never been, but I feel like I have thanks to the amazing cinematography.

Leoh does this to me: Every. Single. Day. When I open that new browser tab, I am immediately transfixed and transported to a white sand beach or a sun-drenched mountainside or a cozy cabin nestled on a winding trail on a rocky mountainside far above an inviting beach. The noisy, open workspace fades from my awareness, and for several seconds, I stare, distracted, without the foggiest notion as to why I opened the new tab.

Just look at the example above. I can almost touch the flowers and feel the late-day breeze as I gaze down at the placid river. Maybe I’ve been hiking with my family, and we made it to a rise where we can stop and rest and take in the magnificent view. But the light is beginning to fade, and we need to get back to the picturesque inn where we’re staying for the night. Images are stories in Leoh.

Leoh hits me visually and emotionally. It’s a farsickness I never knew I had – until the photo pops up in front of me. Then, ever so slowly, I pull up from the mental graveyard spiral and get back to work, either typing in the URL or using the handy Leoh pulldown list of bookmarked sites.

Sadly, the archived images never tell you where the place exists, though occasional you get a hint on a sign and can try to search for it via Google maps. And if you don’t like an image, just hit refresh, and Leoh pulls up a new one. Over the past half year, I’ve gladly recommended Leoh to everyone I know.

But I don’t tell them about the fernweh. That’s for them to discover on their own.