About three weeks ago, I finished rereading Lord of the Rings. Every time I read it I get something different from it, and this time I was deeply struck by the landscapes of the book. In the introduction, Tolkien talks about wanting to create a story that is deeply rooted in place, and for him the place was England. Tolkien's love for his land permeates Lord of the Rings; trees and hills and rivers and shafts of sunlight are described with caring (as well as careful) detail.
I think it's Tolkien's love for the landscape, rather than the physical features described, that makes me so inclined to picture Virginia when I think of Middle-Earth. Middle-Earth is described with love, so I respond by thinking of a place that I love. For weeks, Virginia has been infused with a fairy-tale glow; I see Middle-Earth in every mountain range, every gully. A city park takes on the green wonder of Ithilien. Central Virginia at sunset becomes the soft hills of the Shire.
For books one has loved from childhood, it can be hard to tell if your opinions were shaped by the books, or if you loved the books because they resonated with something you already knew or felt. But I don't think that Tolkien taught me to love landscape. I think that even in youth (and much more so today) I felt that Tolkien was illustrating something that was already deeply rooted in my mind and heart; a passion for the land around me.
Tolkien, for your many brilliances I salute you. Virginia, I love you dearly.