Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thick Water

The river is very showy today. The water is darker, more mysterious; the sky hangs low over the valley and sheds water in thick sheets. It has been a long time coming. The falling water these past few days has sparked life into the bush; birds are chirping, cheeping, tweeting, and chattering in the trees above, in the long grasses and bushes all around. Patrols of brush turkeys are on the prowl, the male turkeys strutting resplendent in their bright red and yellow neck regalia. This is an island of wild in the heart of the city, a refuge for birds and other persons, only some of whom are human.

Suddenly a flock of birds shoot up the river. I peer closely as they look somewhat out of place - seabirds! These seagulls and terns are chasing the fish that have been flushed upstream in the rain-fed tides. I stop and watch for a while enveloped in the sight of this all-engrossing wild.

It is my contention that connecting with wild nature even in the midst of the urban naturescape awakens and animates that part of ourselves which lies dormant in our busy city-driven lives. I refer to this re-awakened self as the ‘wild self’. Seeking the wild in the outdoors, away from the machinations of everyday life, we come into contact with the instinctual wild within ourselves. I am not advocating that we spend all our time in this wild state, however I am suggesting that the wild be reclaimed as a sacred place to be and way to act.

But Western culture has a suspicion of wild things, a fear of the wild which equates to a fear of the unknown, and by extension, to a fear of the other - as if connecting to the wild will somehow taint us, or cause us to lose control and go ‘feral’ – incidentally the pejorative term used by the media for activists campaigning to preserve wild places.

There is also a perception that links the wild with what is bad and dangerous. Going wild is associated with anger and rage, with a loss of control, getting drunk and even with violence. but I would argue that these attributes are aspects of human nature rather than simply aspects of the wild.

The term ‘wild’ is generally defined in two main ways - either as an aspect of the natural world still in its ‘original’ state such as wild animals or self-regulating ecosystems, or as a quality perceived to be in opposition to culture and order (Snyder, 1990). Here the wild refers to what is untamed, uncultivated, disordered, unruly, lawless and uncivilized. In other words, the wild becomes a subversive force outside the control of the social order. This is also part of its attraction. The wild is a place of resistance.

Connecting with the wild involves shifting out of ‘ordinary’ consciousness and coming into contact with the deeper recesses of our being and with qualities we tend to neglect or repress in our daily lives – the sense of passion, playfulness, adventure and creativity. It is a rewarding experience especially ‘when our own wildness is awakened by the wildness of nature’ (Clinebell, 1996:34). Once nature has woven its magic spell we return again and again to be filled, nurtured and nourished for this is the way of the wild.

The delicious Native American author Linda Hogan (1995) puts it this way:

'You know these moments you have when you enter a silence that’s still and complete and peaceful? That’s the source, the place where everything comes from. In that space, you know everything is connected, that there’s an ecology of everything. In that place it is possible for people to have a change of heart, a change of thinking, a change in their way of being and living in the world' (quoted in Jensen, 1995:3).

Linda Hogan describes an experience that parallels my own: being in nature is a two-way process where outer bodily connection and inner reflection merge with the rhythm of the natural world. The wondrous ecophilosopher David Abram (1996:69) argues that it is only through a ‘rejuvenation of our carnal, sensorial empathy with the living land that sustains us’ that we will achieve a change of heart about our relationship with the earth. Perhaps this is what the 19th century nature writer Henry David Thoreau meant when he said: ‘In wildness is the preservation of the world’.

Abram D, 1996, The Spell of the Sensuous. Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, New York, Vintage Books.
Clinebell H, 1996, Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth, Minneapolis, Fortress Press.
Jensen D, 1995, Listening to the Land. Conversations about Nature, Culture and Eros, San Francisco, Sierra Club Books.
Snyder G, 1990, The Practice of the Wild, Berkeley, North Point Press.