Without wild places
I would be mad.
I profoundly yearn, from somewhere deep inside the core of my being, for the utter peace and solace of the peaks, the rivers, the desert, the silence. I can’t get enough of the secret green folds of the valleys, or the mystical jutting spires of rock burnt red by the sun, or the brief miracles of the multicolored wildflowers of summer. I hunger for those places on the edge, where the tatters of civilization blow out behind me in the wind and I face the empty, open space of wildness. It is a painful wound when the tedious demands of the logistical modern life prevent me from being at their center.
John Muir wrote, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” It is not just that the natural world provides the very sustenance we need to literally live – that of clean air and water, the soil from which we grow our food, collect materials to build our shelter. It is that nature nurtures and feeds the spirit. For me, to climb a mountain, or amble lazily through a grassy meadow, is to enter into a conversation with the divine. Here we become privy to universal secrets through the inherent metaphor nature offers if we can only stop long enough, get quiet enough, to listen, look around, and pay attention.
The beauty of these more than human places forces us into the present moment, demanding our utter, rapt attention. There is only to notice, to move one step at a time. To eat a sandwich. Drink water. Breathe.
The strains and rules and expectations of our over-industrialized over-materialized too fast too fake society don’t exist in nature. There are no phones or computers or finances or cars. It is glorious freedom. Freedom from societal expectation. Freedom from societal noise.
Whether we’re cognizant of it or not, to connect with nature is a primordial pull. It is, in fact, a homecoming.
When I first began delving into environmentalism in college I had a terrible and enlightening revelation – all of the threats to our planet were insidiously hidden in core values of our culture. In the United States in particular, but even throughout the rest of the modern world, we value things. We venerate fancy new cars, and the latest fashion trends, and the most updated version of whatever technology we hold in the palm of our hand. Our cultural values oscillate around the accumulation of material wealth to demonstrate our worth, proving we worked hard enough in this capitalistic society to succeed by those external standards.
The revelation came with dismay, because in my studies of literature at the time, I was piecing together that culture was one of the slowest forces to shift – perhaps superseded only by geology - literally taking hundreds of years. I then knew that if we were to truly cease having such a negative impact on our earth and each other we would have to stop needing so much stuff, release our phantom reliance on convenience, downgrade our greed and the tendency to only take care of ourselves to the point of being fearful of, and then ostracizing others. It would mean a seismic shift in culture.
I was also learning at that time that writing, music, painting, sculpture, theatre and other forms of artistic expression, are culture-shifting vehicles – constantly created to push boundaries, call out nuances or blatancies in our era that are causing harm to people and planet.
We must be connected to something if we are going to care enough to incite change around it. In getting out on the land, interacting with the hopes and fears of a different culture, we’re weaving the fibers of relationship - heartstrings - through physical, emotional, spiritual and mental experiences. We can weave them through knowledge gained intellectually, viscerally or observationally. Familiarity and subsequent care are born out of this exploration and openness.
My writing strives to create these heartstrings, and to reveal, perhaps, a different approach to life. I want to pull readers viscerally into place - to feel the cold of the winter wind, the genuine smile of a woman cooking tortillas, to have the fuchsia alpenglow sink deep into the pores of their skin. I aspire that these read experiences might stimulate an appreciation for the natural environment, an excitement in knowing the habits of the hummingbird more than the hottest new television series’ latest developments. I want to emotionally identify with people through story, and to foster the inspiration to mend that primordial connection with nature we have all lost a part of in the complicated dregs of our modern society.
I encourage people to divorce themselves from the addictive jolts of social media, and gather the courage to go out on the streets, cell-phone free, and talk to real people. And here, as we sit together on the proverbial street bench, I aim to tug on emotions, to reach out and share our moments of passion, sadness, puzzlement, exuberance and rage so that we might find our commonality and cultivate compassion.
In fact, I want us to back away from all our personal technology, to re-introduce slowness into our lives, to value our life experiences and relationships far more than the accumulation of stuff or the frenetic pace at which we “do.” I want us all to take a non-goal-oriented saunter, just to notice the light chasing the dark at sunrise, the bird’s nest on the branch, the sparkle of frost.
And so, I don the cloak that writers have worn for hundreds of years – that of the culture-shifter. To arouse a more earth-honoring, diversity-inclusive, community-building society. To preserve those cultures that respect the earth and its people – no matter their status, race, creed or orientation. To reconnect all of us into a more positive relationship with the earth, ourselves and each other.
To say no, look, there is a more reverent way forward.