The other night, I was sitting with my husband and our big black cat Bear watching Nature on PBS. It’s one of our favorite shows because it transports us to so many places we will probably never physically visit. It keeps us informed about the wonders of our planet and mindful of its fragility.
We also get a huge kick out of Bear, who will sit and attentively watch many of the episodes with the seeming wonder of a small child. Occasionally, Bear will take a running leap at the screen as a herd of zebra run past or a flock of gulls take flight from the surface of the sea. Bear seems to know that somewhere deep down inside he is a part of what he’s witnessing. And, I think he longs to connect with what is wild.
Well of course I’m anthropomorphizing him. He’s my cat and he’s just so darn smart. But aside from my blind adoration for my pet, there is a deep grain of something else, something archetypal going on… a call of the wild, if you will. What resonates with Bear, resonates with all of us—far back in our genes, we are all creatures of the wild.
While watching this particular Nature episode on arctic wolves, I was also feeling a little sorry for myself. It’s doubtful my husband and I will be doing much traveling this year. Our decisions about less paid work and more family time—which I will never regret—have left us with less expendable income for stuff like vacations. So PBS may be my only brush this year with what is truly wild… or maybe not.
Last summer I sat at our little community pool in the warmth of July sunshine reading my Sierra Club magazine, engrossed in an article called “The Wilderness Out Your Front Door” by Gary Kamiya. In a nutshell, Kamiya (who has traveled quite a bit into what most of us think of as wilderness, so he’s probably not feeling sorry for himself) was making a case for the existence of wilderness everywhere. Given the recent dangerous threats to public lands in this country, the ever-growing deforestation of rain forests, the continual paving over of America’s woodlands and prairies, and the rapidly melting polar caps, it started out to be a hard sell for me. But, I read on, glancing up every so often to a splash in the pool or shifting my gaze off the glare of the chain-link fence surrounding me.
Kamiya says that “with a beginner’s mind, one can find wilderness anywhere. Every city reveals the universe in its own unique way, whether it be the glacier-polished schist boulders in Manhattan’s Central park or the mighty Mississippi River flowing beneath Chicksaw Bluff in Memphis, Tennessee.” In Kamiya’s mind, while nothing quite compares to being out in Yellowstone during a thunderstorm or waking up in the Grand Canyon at dawn, “you don’t have to seek out panoramic sites or be enveloped by weather to find wilderness.” There are “portals” to wilderness everywhere, he offers, because wilderness is at its heart inside us. “No matter how refined we may think ourselves,” he says, “at some level we are all still wild creatures, made up of the same materials as the mountains, the deserts, the oceans, the distant stars.”
Fine, I thought, but I’m here at a public pool, not a canyon river. I looked up and gazed through the metal fence, across the field, down to a lake that rests just beneath the hillside on which the pool is perched. I was trying to reason it out—wilderness everywhere—when one of the large egrets that frequents the lake glided just above the water, sailing the length of the lake and disappearing into the trees at the far end. His wingspan was huge, giving him a nearly prehistoric look. Wilderness? Maybe.
Sound too simple? The sophisticated, adult answer would seem to be yes. But from “a beginner’s mind”, not so much, I think. So if you are like me, feeling a little blue to be stuck in winter surrounded by tall buildings instead of Yosemite’s El Capitan, take heart… take your wild heart and find what is beneath the surface right next door. Here’s what I found….
Ten minutes’ walk from my front door is the Watershed Nature Center, 40 acres of prairie, forest, and wetland habitats that is free to all and home to a myriad of wildlife and plant species.
Yes, there is a paved path around a good portion of the pond, but I can live with that, especially since it allows many people to connect with their wild heart who otherwise would find it too physically challenging. The watershed features several walking trails, a raised marsh walk and a welcome center. The big log house at the southeast end of the preserve may not say “wilderness”, but it bustles with activities for those who are wild at heart. The Watershed Nature Center is dedicated to providing environmental education, passive recreation, and enjoyment of native habitats for everyone who seeks a bit of wilderness.
How far would you need to go to find wilderness? Maybe it’s outside your back door, if you live on a wooded lot. Maybe it’s a certain stand of old trees in your city park. Maybe it’s a creek bed just outside your subdivision. I know these are all “concessions” to the grandure of Yellowstone, the breadth of the Grand Canyon and the majesty of Yosemite, but they can still speak to us and teach to value and take care of what we do have. Even Bear knows that.
Bill Harris, one of the wise sort of new age philosophers I’ve followed over the years, says that while you may not always like your present state of affairs, it’s really up to you whether you allow yourself to suffer. For the most part, I think he’s right. I can sit and feel sorry for myself because I won’t be going to the “wilderness” this year, or I can seek out what is wild for me, even if it is only 40 acres down the street. Where is wild for you?