Thoreau wrote ”in wildness is the preservation of the world” in 1862. Note that he said ’wildness’, not ’wilderness’. You don’t need me to tell you about the state of the wilderness, that the world is down to its last 20% of virgin forests and 2% of untrammeled wilderness, that species are dying at a rate unprecedented in 65 million years. But what of wildness in the modern world?
I went for a walk in an ancient coastal forest, where old growth spruce, cedar, and hemlock stretched hundreds of feet into the sky. Survival here is a matter of catching little bits of life-sustaining light that filter through from the heavens; this, by the way, describes photography too. All of a sudden, I was stopped in my tracks and moved to laughter by a single hemlock branch, which had stretched downdowndowndownoutoutoutout so that just the very very tips of its needles were able to catch a slice of sun nudging its way through a narrow gap in the cedars. It seemed absurd like monkeys copulating in front of an excited crowd at the zoo, or like the way that poor Indian boys will wave at the white man sitting on the stoop of a passing train as they defecate beside the tracks. That’s the thing about life, though: it finds a way.
I made friends with a girl who spent the summer studying at an Apache tracking school in the New Jersey forest. She told me that the first question in considering a track is the intention of the creature, and that, naturally, the consideration of other creatures’ intentions leads to a study of our own. When walking in the forest concentrating on communion with the natural world, she told me, the trees and plants actually leaned in to crowd the trail, moving nearer to her. Living a life in celebration with wildness, with integrity, with grace, and with love is a question of intention and conscious choice. It’s a process that begins with this step. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. And this one.
”’Wild’ alludes to a process of self-organization that generates systems and organisms, all of which are within the constraints of–and constitute components of–larger systems that again are wild, such as major ecosystems or the water cycle in the biosphere. Wildness can be said to be the essential nature of nature. As reflected in consciousness, it can be seen as a kind of open awareness–full of imagination but also the source of alert survival intelligence. The workings of the human mind at its very richest reflect this self-organizing wildness. So language does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back.
”In doing so it goes two ways: it enables us to have a small window onto an independently existing world, but it also shapes– via its very structures and vocabularies–how we see that world. It may be argued that what language does to our seeing of reality is restrictive, narrowing, limiting, and possibly misleading. ’The menu is not the meal.’ But rather than dismiss language from a spiritual position, speaking vaguely of Unsayable Truths, we must instead turn right back to language. The way to see with language, to be free with it and to find it a vehicle of self-transcending insight, is to know both mind and language extremely well and to play with their many possibilities without any special attachment. In doing this, a language yields up surprises and angles that amaze us and that can lead back to unmediated direct experience.”
- Gary Snyder, A Place in Space
My intention, in this step, is to create the language I’m seeing with. To be wild. And in this one, too.