“Society is like a lawn, where every roughness is smoothed, every bramble eradicated, and where the eye is delighted by the smiling verdure of a velvet surface; he, however, who would study nature in its wildness and variety, must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice.”
-Washington Irving, writer (1783-1859)
I have always adored this quote. Though I love the city, in all her liveliness and her art, bustling with human activity, how deeply I am enmeshed with raw nature. I see change in the cities, more and more, with biking, gardens on the crests of buildings, local farmer’s markets, green expos, solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars. Innovation is alive! Sustainable technology is a thing of beauty, adapted well to the environment- like the weaver bird’s delicate technological creation, his intricately woven nest, shaped like a golden gourd, dangling in the tall reeds of fraying sunlight. So beautiful, aesthetic, with such purpose, and works well with the ecosystem all around.
But how often I must recede out into the depths of the raw weald, and into the salty abyss of the sea. When I go on a run or bike ride, I prefer the torturous winding paths of roots, hills, ruts, sand, rock, and moss. When on a swim, how much I prefer to battle and brave the waves, rather than monotonous strokes echoing through the lonely pool house. There is a thrill in fighting the undertow, to feel the tickle of the swash, the slap of the cold brine, and the spitting droplets that feel like bullet rain as I punch through the backside of a crest, colours splintering emerald and tangerine inside the glass visage as she sweeps over.
I am surefooted in the thick of woods, but I tend to stumble on level ground.
Raw nature has always been my greatest teacher. I have learned more from cracking a rib after being slammed by a wave, or from learning to walk soundlessly through dried grasses and leaves in order to approach a fawn, than I have in most classrooms. I have learned the greatest of life’s lessons living in a tree, tracking animals, seeing the fear in a rabbit’s eye after I have run him down, and knowing the love and compassion I felt letting him go, feeding spiders, working the land and growing strawberries and tomatoes and onion…the forces of nature, the laws of nature, and the tenderness and harshness of her have all been my most affecting teachers.
I have come to accept my own inner wilderness, my untamed, uncivilized, and imperfect self. I don’t want to conquer it, I want to learn from it, foster it. The energy taken to tame and conquer far exceeds accepting, and going forward. I don’t want to flatten the forest ahead into a level, staid path of monotony. I want to explore and discover. I want to fall down, get battered, survive, and learn. I want to be a better person. I want to challenge myself. Everyday. I do not want to bulldoze my inner being in order to conform to societal pressures. I do not want to anesthetize myself, and lose my inner voice. Aye…I can live in a city, and be content, with the open mind for opportunity, for creating, but the wilderness must always live in me.
And as Emily Dickinson wrote so beautifully-
“Assent, and you are sane,
Demur, you’re straightway dangerous
And handled with a Chain.”