Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There are no small adventures

Lately, I've been reading about ambitious adventures into the wild (Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths and The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane).

As well as vicarious experiences, I'm looking for insights. How do others connect with the wild? How do I channel grief at the loss of wild places into healing for the land and for myself? How can I belong to the immensity of nature? Is it possible to penetrate that frustrating barrier between myself and what is outside of myself?

Albert Einstein wrote: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
David Abram said, "the deepest impulse in my work...is to renew the experience of being immersed, embedded, in the depths of a living world."

The writers whose work I've been reading seem in their various ways to be seeking a relationship with the wild, in order to find the wild within themselves. (At least, that is one lens through which I read their work.)

Unlike these seekers, I do not climb mountains, drink ayahuasca brewed by Amazonian shamans, or skinnydip in glacial lakes. My adventures are of the micro sort: A red fox or a deer by the river. An indigo bunting foraging in a flash of blue on the edge of a field. A chipmunk zipping between my bicycle wheels. The scent of decaying leaves or oncoming rain or sun-dried sweet grass lifting on a breeze.

Must I journey to the mountain? Is the wild "out there," or hidden in plain sight all around us?

Toward the end of The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane writes,“But I had learned to see another type of wildness, to which I had once been blind: the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, vigorous and chaotic. This wildness was not about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun. The weed thrusting through a crack in a pavement, the tree root impudently cracking a carapace of tarmac: these were wild signs, as much as the storm wave and the snowflake.”

I find myself questing for the same things that these writers quest for, seeking some of the same answers. I welcome them as mentors, guides and companions. Their words, and the words of many of you, keep me company as I wander.

And yet, even the most beautifully written words are only words. Words can revive our longing, articulate our grief, link us back to the landscape with power and magic; but they cannot take the place of immersing our physical selves in that landscape. Just as even the most evocative photograph can offer us one dimension of experience--bereft of sound, or scent, or the touch of the wind on our faces--only an echo of a living, breathing, depthful place.

So, I walk. With appreciation, in gratitude.

This is the adventure outside my door, and I find myself, as N.D. Wilson writes, like an ant trying to assess the cathedrals of Europe. It is more than I am able to encompass.

“We are not exiled from the garden of Eden but living in it still. Paradise is not in the past or future but only in the present, this Earth an untamed heaven, a wild paradise garden.” --Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

“I imagined the wind moving through all these places, and many more like them: places that were separated from one another by roads and housing, fences and shopping-centres, street-lights and cities, but that were joined across space at that time by their wildness in the wind. We are fallen in mostly broken pieces, I thought, but the wild can still return us to ourselves.” --Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

Photos taken on the Mississippi River bluffs along West River Parkway.


  1. I find simply sitting outside works well, in addition to walking. Just sitting quietly, if you do it long enough, seems to attune my senses so I see more, hear more smell more of what is happening all around. I also feel part of it when I grow food. It may be cultivation, but it brings me into contact with the sheer miracle of life. It works for me, anyway :)

  2. Thank you for the reminder...sometimes the challenge is to sink into what is in front of you and ignore the inner monologue and all the urban noises that compete for attention. A matter of practice for this restless brain.

  3. I so love what you have written here. <3


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