Introduction to forthcoming book: “The Wilderness is Home: A Life in Tune With the Natural World“, due out in 2017. Photo credit: “Basin Pond” by Marc Patterson
The howling woke from me from a deep sleep. A coyote was nearby. I rolled over in my sleeping bag and stared upwards, eyes adjusting to the dark inside my tent. Now there were two. The howls came from across the river, perhaps only a hundred yards away, through thick scrub brush and a stand of mixed evergreens. A single coyote had answered the initial call, but others quickly chimed in eagerly becoming a wild symphony. I listened, not moving. This was a large pack. The symphony crescendoed with barks and growls. They had made a kill and were feeding. Curiosity had the best of me and I stepped out from my tent to experience this moment more fully.
Thick mossy earth blanketed my bare feet and I looked up to the sky. The night sky was brilliantly clear, more clear than I had seen it in many evenings. The moon was out of view, tucked behind red pines that towered over my head. The white band of the Milky Way rained down an incandescent glow, illuminating the tree tops, casting shadows onto the forest floor.
The wild baying brought me back to the earth. I wanted to creep closer to experience it more intimately, to catch a glimpse, a flash of teeth, of hungry eyes in the dark. Instead, I remained in place, experiencing this wonderful moment from a safe distance. Several minutes passed and as the coyotes became quiet the forest settled into a solemn silence. The call of a barred owl calling out from a distance broke the silence. I lingered in the night air for several moments, for a few deep breaths, reminded of the many realities taking place around us at all times. Nearly too excited to sleep, but too physically tired to stay awake I eventually crawled back into my tent with a grin, and a satisfied spirit. I was home.
I go to the wilderness often for in doing so I return home. Within the wilderness, with its many cycles of life and death we are offered the opportunity to connect with the essential truth of our lives; that we are part of this environment, our bodies born of the same earth, comprised of the same elements as those in nature. This is our home. Science has shown us that we share our DNA with trees, plants, and with the animals in the forest. We are as much a part of nature and the rugged landscape as the coyote, or owl, or the mossy forest floor.
Spending time in the wilderness is not simply a process of slowing down. It is a return to the natural order of things. It is an act of grounding ourselves in reality, and in the present moment. In nature we touch the fragility of life, and intimately see how we are a part of those cycles.
The wilderness is not a barren landscape ruled by chaos. To the untrained eye it may appear this way, but for the individual close to nature, and versed in its ways, it is a place of order. Its rituals and cycles are familiar. Its processes endlessly complex, but yet the essence of its life simple. As one slowly becomes attuned to the rhythms of the land one’s familiarity increases. The act of touching the earth is not a mystical gesture. It is a part of life…