There is a reason I write best outside in the early morning sunshine, or on a beach or a rock or a dock or on the side of a mountain trail, or in the woods. The key in all of these places can be summed up by the word “wild”. Author Barbara Kingsolver has told me recently, “Wildness puts us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd.” She goes on to say, “We need to be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about our economic status or our running day calendar.”
I agree with Barbara. I have known this for some time, but she explains it oh so well. I feel I need to look upon wilderness in order to write and in order to breathe freely. And not just to write about wilderness, which I often do in poem and essay, but to write about other topics as well. A clean slate of uncomplicated wild creates a soothed place in me, irons out all the wrinkles inside, replaces my worries with calm, my uncertainties with the strength of a mountain or the depth of a lake or sea. It is all so much larger than I am. Gazing at a thousand stars puts my own pallid self in perspective. I am a beautiful part of this wondrous planet, but I am also a small, almost unnecessary part, and that is a relief to me. It sure takes a load off to see it that way; gives me pause to know I can relax, I can give over my made-up worries and responsibilities, I can understand the bigger picture, I can see farther and more clearly.
An English professor of mine who taught Spanish and American Literature once thanked me for that insight. He began to include a daily walk somewhere wild so he could also feel happily small and unkept by society’s expectations, if only briefly. At the time, I thought he was “old”; I would have put him at about forty-five years, near my own age now; no longer “old” to me. I was twenty at the time and thought he should know better, but sometimes it takes years to understand the complexities of life; I know that now. I also know now why he was so thankful and why he was surprised at such a declaration from an undergrad student. He was eternally wise, I believed, in all other aspects, but I see from age’s perspective that he was sorting it all out just like the rest of us.
The wild took him to a better place. The wild—it has its measures and methods already sorted. There is no overanalyzing or conjecturing, no agonizing or metacognition, no pouting or tantruming in the wild. Only life—abounding in simplicity: living and dying, being and not being, playing, eating, mating, sleeping; these are beautiful and simple things. And guess what? They are ours, too. They are inside all of us yearning to be released. They are here for us if we step out into the wilderness in some way and allow them to surface. We can immerse our minds and our bodies and tear down the burdens that weigh us. We can build up the simple joys of a peaceful life. So go on now; reach for the door, step outside, take a deep breath, smile, and dive right in. There’s no time like the present.
…So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree.
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Robert Frost, from Birches