“Wild things prefer to remain wild. To honour a wild thing, converse with it on its terms, in its language, on its territory. Its gift might be to make you wilder.”
Bill Plotkin; Soulcraft – Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
I am drawn to the words wild and wildness; intrigued by the number of different ways they are used in everyday language. But I have come to realise that they have a certain enigmatic quality to them that can make their meaning somewhat ambiguous, to my way of thinking. In the context of delving into the human-nature connection, I decided to seek out a more personal understanding of what wild and wildness entailed.
I was looking for a finely-woven expression, crafted out of felt experience and/or anchorage to a place or process that was somehow recognised as integral to the human psyche. Something that reached beyond written definition, something that became a process embodied in the mind, and eventually, evolving into a practice that would alter a persons’ way of seeing and living in the world.
I thought it best to begin with the written definition of wild and wildness, so I would have the foundations on which to build my own interpretation of the words, but gradually realised I was being led along a path already travelled. I began to realise that walking the same path would not help me to forge a different route. After-all, I reminded myself, I was looking for a felt expression, not something as rigid as a definition from a dictionary.
So I began reading, voraciously, foraging for nuggets of wisdom that would help me to clarify what wild and wildness really meant. At times I felt enlightened, at others confounded, as the true scope of the words meanings were unveiled. In all my reading, I was definitely not prepared for such a philosophical debate as I encountered, and eventually, cast all papers and books aside. Enough.
Instead, I took myself into the forest of my usual walk, along a forged path for a way, before heading off along a scant animal trail, headlong into the wild. After all, felt experience comes from feeling, not reading. How else could I begin to define what wild and wildness really meant unless I crossed over, into that very frontier?
I entered the forest, wild in spirit but human in appearance, and set forth across the hills and down into the gullies enshrouded in wildness. The morning sun extended gauze-like fingers through the forest in a tracery of white laser beams, and here and there pockets of mist hung tremulously in the deep gully below me. I could hear water trickling over rocks, and when I neared the edge of the gully I could see huge slabs of rock, near vertical, in a series of steps over which the water cascaded deep below me.
I followed a narrow trail, trammelled by Wallaby, Kangaroo and other wild animal footprints, etched into the earth as deeply as they were etched into the memory of Animal. I became one with the trail, allowing Animal to guide me, feeling myself beginning to shift focus to a more other-than-human perspective. Here and there I had to duck, when low branches barred my way forward, but I began to feel my way through the undergrowth as though I perceived myself to be the very animal that I was tracking.
Scats appeared on the trail, markers in the wild, of the wild; Fox, feral Cat, Wallaby. I closed my eyes, began to think like Animal, straining to recognise my surroundings as though familiar. I heard a twig snap to my left, and instinctively dropped to a crouch. Through the fronds of Bracken Fern I watched. Waited. Not sure if my role was the hunter or the hunted. Time stood still. A feeling of wildness descended upon me that was not entirely unfamiliar. I sensed I was no longer entirely human. It was as though I was remembering a part of who I was. I knew that the wildness I was seeing and feeling were the part of me that resonated with what it meant to be wild. It was the part of me that was wild; natural, untamed, and unrestrained.
Fox appeared through the undergrowth, russet fur aglow in a shaft of sunlight, illuminating a mirror image of the part of me that was fox-like. We locked eyes, and in those few moments of engagement I felt the species barrier slip away into nothingness. We were one and the same; wild in nature and wild of origin, embedded in a landscape pulsing with the same wildness that had existed since the dawn of time. We shared that otherness common to all living beings, as though woven together in the very fabric of life itself.
In a blink Fox was gone, vanishing into the depths with a fluidity and grace that left me feeling human once again. It was then that I realised that to my mind, such encounters are what wild and wildness mean, by virtue of the fact that they change us in some way, altering our perception and reminding us what it means to be human. I had glimpsed wildness at work, and had felt it also, if only briefly, but it was long enough to allow me to recognise and take ownership of the wild within me, as an integral part of who I am.
Such encounters that place us directly in the wild, simultaneously engaging us in wildness as a process of which we are a part of, offer us potential opportunities to alter the way we view the world. Perhaps it is only by making ourselves a little wilder, that we can begin to understand ourselves on a deeper level, and begin to remember our place in a world that is not just human. In so doing, we strengthen our connection to all living things and regain a sense of awe and wonder for the natural world and the entire web of life.