Wild.

These are ancient mountains.  There is a divinity here among the ferns, the plants, the old trees, the stones.  Fecundity in all things green.

***

The wilderness outside is reflective of the wilderness inside.  So much yet to explore.  So much mystery abounds in the moist earth that sprouts white and red mushrooms and dwells inside the crevices that look like medieval grottos at the base of trees.  So much mystery inside my restless heart and creative mind.

***

My skin crawls with red bumps all up and down my legs, and tiny, oily pimples spring up across my face every waking moment.   I am disoriented at times, and sad, and irritated, then mesmerized, and finally humbled into submission by something I can’t fully explain.

***

My dog sprouted swollen bumps on both sides of her jaw after a restless night of becoming irritated by some tiny creature that lurks within the cracks on the walls or the floor.  She recovers her wellness and her joy at the first scent of the mountain air and the kindness and practicality of the local veterinarian.  He recommends I go on a hike with her as soon as she has recovered.  Here, the prescription is to get out in nature.  To commune with the land as a way to heal.

***

At every twist and turn of the mountain roads and challenges in my daily life, I try to remember to lean into it all and let it be what it is.  No need for perfection.  No need for justification.  No need for analysis.  Just lean into it.  Tap the break at the right moment.  Pause and release.  Then coast and lean into the next moment and curve.  Continue like this: up, down, around, and over the mountain until there is a small space to pull over or a scenic overlook to enjoy.  In either instance:  breathe.

***

There is a space where I may have found my tribe.  In a dance studio downtown Asheville where the live drumming of the West African rhythms can be heard from the street.  Where the instructor, a beautiful, powerful, kind, and joyous woman from the Cote d’Ivoire, counts to you in French and commands the drummers to slow down or speed up by just a simple gesture of her hand.  Here, the drums pound inside of my stomach.  Inside of my pelvis.  At the soles of my feet and the base of my spine. And my shoulders shake and my heart is in control of my joy.

***

My dog and I approach the blue blaze right off mile marker 375 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We are headed up to Rattlesnake Lodge – a deserted vacation getaway in the 1920s and 30s.  Only stone foundations of cabins, fireplaces, and other buildings exist.  It is a popular spot of locals.  Before us is a wet slab of exposed mountain with a cascade of water splashing over eroded stones that are now round and smooth.  I say a small prayer for our well-being but also as a greeting to the ancient ones that inhabit every rock, plant, stream, and tree in this place.  I am entering their world, and I must respect their ways.  We begin our ascent and cross over a small part of the stream before stepping onto the worn path with exposed roots and small, loose stones.  I inhale the damp smell and settle into my body.  Many times I am overcome with tenderness and so much love.  Tears fill my eyes.  “Bring us your tears,” the ferns, stones, and stream whisper to me.  So, I cry in the middle of the forest on a worn path where oak trees act as citadels and twisted laurel branches arc over me and guide me to the white blaze called “Mountain to Sea” trail.  My dog leads.  She seems at home.  Her tail wags and her tongue hangs out.  She is smiling.

***

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A young, green, perfectly shaped acorn drops at my feet.  It is a gift from my friends the oaks.  I pick it up and put it in my pocket.  I swipe away sweat from my forehead and strip off my self-conscious thoughts.  I am becoming wild, and I am no longer ashamed to reclaim that part of me that we have all lost somewhere along the way.  At another stop, I find a stone in the shape of a tulip tree leaf.  It has flecks of mica in it.  I am prompted by some inner guidance to pick it up.  It is not for me to keep, but I do not know what I will do with it.  I place it inside my pocket next to my acorn.  My dog and I continue to ascend until the ground levels out and I see before me a pillar of stones that looks like a sacred altar.  It is one of the remnants of the old lodge, possibly a fireplace for I see the center has been charred.  Here I know that the stone is a symbol of my day of initiation.  I hold it to my chest, say a prayer of gratitude to this ancient land, and then place my stone on the charred altar.  The mica sparkles.  Three large daddy-long-legs creep out from the stones and walk towards me.  The biggest one is right in front of my face and he crawls over the edge of the stone and begins to bob up and down softly.  Maybe I have threatened their home and existence, but my heart knows why they are here:  they’re ambassadors for the ancient ones of this land.   I smile and blow them a kiss.  And a little one walks out from the shadows and joins in the dance.

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Walking southward, I spot a large fallen tree.  There is enough space to walk underneath it.  I see this as my opportunity to shed my old skin, my old patterns and habits, and step into my wild self.  I take a breath, duck my head, and pass underneath.  My dog follows me.  We behold in front of us a pool of stones and part of a stone wall covered in moss.  It is damp and cool in this space and smells earthy.  There looks to be a well where the water is coming from.  I take it all in.  I breathe deeply.  Once more tenderness overcomes me and I shed more tears.  “I am wild,” I say quietly.  Then I say it again.  Louder.  And louder after that.  I turn and face the entrance and I look at my dog and smile.  “We are wild!”  I yell, and I run underneath the fallen tree and out into the clearing, spinning around like the child I once was.

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***

On the descent down the third blaze, I am silent.  I stop and give my dog some water and drink a big gulp of it too.  My boots clump the trodden path and I fall into a rhythm.  A mantra begins forming in my head with each step:  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  I smile and my breath gets deeper.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  My pace quickens.  “I am wild.  I am wild.  I am wild.”  The next thing I know, I am saying this out loud and moving quickly, as my dog enjoys the sudden burst of energy.  “I am wild!  I am wild!  I am wild!”  Finally, I see the creek bed at the entrance to the trails.  There is a ledge where the water streams over the black slab.  People have piled stones on top one another at the edge.  Another nature based altar, framed by laurels and rhododendrons.  My pack is heavy and my shorts are riding up my thighs.  Sweat has seeped into the folds of my tshirt.   I don’t look much different than when I started.  Yet, I am transformed.  I have come back to the beginning.  Back to where I belong.

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Where Do They Go?

A colleague and I talked this afternoon at lunch about recycling, composting, gardening, walking barefoot at work on our breaks, and our love for avocados and that sweet, short time they are ripe enough to eat.  As she was deliberating what in our office could get recycled, she shared with me the fact that maybe 30% of plastics get recycled, although we who recycle believe it all goes to the magical recycling factory nearby and gets put to good use as someone’s new water bottle, birdhouse, or even fancy, light-weight tennis shoes.  That bummed me out, but she said there’s hope.  There are scientists and inventors out there thinking outside of the box trying to figure out our waste and consumption problem and what to create out of recycled materials such as hard plastics.

After seeing the documentary, Dirt, about our use and abuse of this green earth, I have been trying hard to become a little more conscientious of my daily treatment of mother Gaia.  I started a compost pile (that is now too hard for me to turn and I better invest in a pitchfork or a fancy rolling bin), kept up my recycling, and started picking up trash in my neighborhood as I walk my dog.  And there’s always stuff to pick up and recycle, throw away, or compost:  milk jugs, McDonald’s containers, rubber bands, soda cans, cereal boxes, cardboard egg cartons, rotting apples, peach pits, plastic bags, and tampons with dispensers (I admit, I left that one in the street for about 3 days before I finally got brave and picked it up with paper towels and a leftover sandwich bag I found on the ground).

It’s very easy, and quite understandable, to ignore the little things we see around us because we’re so focused on running here and there and doing this and that.  And I put myself in the category of doing the ecologically sound thing out of convenience and cost for me.  We say to ourselves:  My life seems fairly clean and orderly enough.  How can the world be in such a mess and in pain when my home, my car, my job, my neighborhood are functioning fairly decently, minus a few bits of trash, bills, annoyances and mini-dramas along the way?  The problems are out there in other parts of the world.  Nothing has changed too much here, and though that either comforts me, frustrates me, or confuses me, at least my life has some consistency and order.  But, I can no longer fully go back into that hazy state of thinking.  And here’s why:  I have been feeling disconnected to others and my surroundings lately.  That worries me because there’s nothing more that I long for than a sense of feeling connected, grounded, and a part of this world.

I walk my dog in the evening and I try to listen to the breeze blowing through the whispering pines and instead I hear the sirens of police cars, fire trucks or ambulances.  I look up into the sky to admire the moon and stars and get fixated on the numerous planes that fly over my neighborhood to and from the airport or the Air Force base nearby.  I try to look at the wild geese that have gathered on the frozen lake and my view is blocked by 2 story houses with three car garages that have wooden fences surrounding them.  I tear up when I see the carcasses of raccoons, squirrels, and the occasional deer scattered and smashed on the busy streets as we drive over or around them.  My heart gets heavy when I see deer foraging in the muddied farmer’s field that is soon to be stripped away by yet another QuikTrip or Circle K gas station to compete with the BP or MotoMart gas station across the street.  Where do all the wild things go as we quickly and aggressively encroach on their land to build more Walgreens, Targets, Ikeas, bike shops, hiking shops, restaurants, bars and wine stores and more new stuff to divert us from simply being?

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Where do the birds go when the oaks, the maples, the pines, the hickories, the sycamores, the walnuts, and all the brushes and vines are torn down to make way for the new chiropractic office, the Center for Fecal Incontinence or the Kidney Dialysis of Southern Illinois take their place?  We think we are ill because there’s more stress in this world, but we are stressing ourselves out because there is less of the natural world out there to help us connect to the natural world inside ourselves.

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Where do the worms, the daddy-long legs, the garden spiders, the fish, the frogs, the butterflies, and the bees go when we rip up the ground and dig up native grasses and plants to put in field upon field of annual wheats and corns that strip the land of nutrients, are sprayed with chemicals that get into our water system, and lead to soil erosion?  We eat our processed food from a package and forget that food actually comes from the land.  We stop tasting and keep consuming in hopes that we will one day be full enough and happy enough and unstressed enough to enjoy a moment of sunshine on our faces or a bite of a juicy peach.

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In the meantime, our very guides and teachers of the natural world who can lead us to that mysterious and elusive point of soul within us are leaving us as quickly as we are leaving them.

What, then, can we do to help ourselves reconnect to our very essence that is natural and soulful?  I think the answer lies in going outside to get inside ourselves.  Be in nature and really start listening, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching all that is around us.  Go past the strip malls and search for a beautiful clearing of the meadow and woodlands that are still there and are lit up by the setting sun.  Listen deeper to the whispering pine and the playful breeze as they have a conversation above the competing sirens and mufflers.  Buy a piece of fruit or vegetable from the farmer’s stand or grocery store and eat it with great attention and reverence.  While you’re at the stoplight, watch as a hawk swiftly and gracefully dives from a telephone pole and circles the nearby field in search of prey.

And if we’re really bold and brave, we will wake up from our dream (or is it a nightmare?) and stay awake long enough to do the small things that can help the world.  Build the community garden you’ve been talking about.  Enroll in a local gardening club or nature course.  Save your money and buy that big churning compost bin off of Amazon.  Continue to pick up trash around your neighborhood.  Feed the birds in your backyard and keep the native trees and shrubs and perennials around your perimeter instead of opting for a fancy fence.  Buy more food that is locally sourced.  Contact your local government and find out information on city ordinances on using prairie grass in your yard’s landscape.  For if we all do small things to take care of our wild nature (both within and without ourselves), we will start building up enough consciousness, mindfulness, self-healing and love to build a less disconnected community of bored and emotionally unfulfilled people to a more heart-centered, unique and creative collective of individuals who feel more like a family that is willing to take care of our ailing Mother Earth.