I need to go find the deer, eat some wild weeds, and walk beside a singing river.
While tree blossoms burst open in profusion all around, scenting the air with honeyed sweetness, and the earth is overrun by lanky, bright flowers of yellow woodsorrel, I’ve been gradually constricting. Like a lengthening shadow, domesticity slowly creeps up on me once more.
Mostly I am content with the rituals of hearth and home; the very ones I have deliberately created in a quiet, handcrafted life. Yet because I live in town, albeit a small one, when I am too long contained by four walls and roof, by the geometric grid of streets, something in me withers. Nature boy that I am, I don’t fare well when disconnected from my wild soul.
It seems like it should be enough for a soulful existence: greeting the morning with hands upon the grandmother Monterey cypress tree; a daily wordless communion with the beauty that surrounds nearly everywhere; hours of scribbling quietly by the window with an old fountain pen from Paris; the sessions with clients; a house free of television and radio. Moreover, there’s a daily walk with two English Whippets through the leafy and pine-clad neighborhood, and always the tactile, sensory work each evening in my kitchen to create a fresh, organic, and nourishing meal for the nightly candlelit supper.
Despite it all, I’m feeling restless, blue, or burdened—sometimes all of them at once. Irrespective of my on-again, off-again yoga practice and the deep-tissue massage last week, I am slightly stooped and shoulders remain rounded inwards. Guarded. Contained. Rigid.
It’s a strange paradox that delivering our soul work in life often requires us to be engaged with the so-called “real world” in challenging or merely tedious ways: hours at the computer, social media, networking and promotion, et al., which tend to feel decidedly soul-less. Like so much of life, the key seems to be in finding balance but, alas, I’ve dropped the thread again.
“I think you’re part plant,” a friend said to me a couple of months ago. “That’s why you’re so sensitive and why you prefer trees to people.”
I could only chuckle in appreciation at her observation, knowing she meant it as a compliment. She’s a wild soul herself, often more feral than fashionable.
Partially plant or not, I droop when too long planted in the domestic garden. I wonder, with merely tending the hearth and home, what sort of Green Man—that bearded, wild, Old World archetype of the Sacred Masculine—am I lately? When was the last time I disappeared amongst the pines, oaks or redwoods for an entire afternoon? Or followed a faint deer trail through a sunny meadow or the fragrant underbrush? Foraged and gathered a bushel of wild miner’s lettuce for my dinner?
I need to set work and burdens aside and get out of town, wandering barefoot in an untamed locale for a while. Much as I enjoy ambling along the alluring shoreline, I usually don’t wish to be at Point Lobos State Preserve, which is nearly always too crowded and “loved-to-death,” as my park ranger friend puts it. And I remain caught in a conflicted relationship with majestic and wild Big Sur (as shared in the first post of last year’s 3-part series, “Leaving My Shoes Along the Trail“).
My solution is Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley, a roughly 4500-acre preserve stretching from the willow-lined river along a cotton-sycamore floodplain, up into a wild expanse of hills covered in oak and chaparral (an alluring redwood canyon rewards those who go far enough). Though it’s a favorite hiking spot among locals, I’ve kept mainly to the coast and not wandered there since late autumn.
The past two weeks have felt like spring, at last. Everywhere in town the trees explode into colorfully scented fireworks, and formerly bare branches now leaf out with tender green eruptions. As a gift of the abundant winter rain, a thick carpet of green grass and flowering weeds covers the land, and this stretch of the coastline is currently so lush and verdant it looks more like Ireland than typical parched, brown California.
At 61°F (16°C), the day feels warm enough that I decide to leave my light jacket in the car beside my boots. Unclad soles on damp, gravelly earth, I cross the unpaved, nearly empty car park and it occurs to me that the seasonal foot bridge might still be removed due to the winter/spring level of the river. Indeed it is, and the sign blocking the path says the occasional bridge won’t be reinstated until April. So I walk several hundred yards west from where I’ve parked, down to the main crossing, listening to the gurgling voices of the rushing waters just a dozen feet away.
Two years ago, needing desperately to escape Honolulu and O’ahu, I rented my first little California pied à terre in Carmel Valley. Perched on a southerly hillside, the studio was little more than a converted garage with a small kitchen and bathroom, but it suited my needs and modest budget for a writer’s retreat. Perched on a hillside, what it lacked in amenities and furnishings was compensated by a lovely view. Evenings found me bundled up on the deck with my rapidly-cooling supper, a glass of wine, and a flickering candle in a purple glass holder. As the noise of the valley road gradually diminished, I could hear the river singing from a quarter mile away, accompanied in late spring by frogs serenading at night.
Walking today beside the clear, cold waters, listening to the high notes and low notes as the river rushes and shimmers amid the mostly bare trees, a soft pang in my heart belies how much I have missed the gentle song of my sparkling, wild friend.
Winter feels like it is finally on the run, and the willows all along the muddy bank are liberally brushed with new green in an almost audible sparkle of life. Yet much as I love the waterway, I don’t fancy the noise of the road, so once I have crossed over the bridge, rather than ramble the riverside trail, I head across the freshly sprouted floodplain to get away from the highway. Treading barefoot in the tender green grass, savoring how good it is to be out of town and wandering solo, a smile breaks across my face. Overdue, this gentle re-wilding of myself.
Ambling beneath a cerulean blue sky strewn generously with white puffy clouds, my shoulders rolling back and chest opens again. At midday, the deer are sheltered among the trees and I haven’t seen them, but I have noticed and followed their cloven tracks in the soft earth. There isn’t any miner’s lettuce (Clayfonia perfoliata) here on the plain, the tender green, vitamin-rich plant prefers a shady hillside, but I’ve plucked a few weeds that called to me and nibbled their astringent bitterness like a wild, foraging creature. Early spring medicine.
Eat the wild. It transforms you.
I haven’t been strolling even half an hour when I realize that my entire existence has shifted. Smiling, I feel happy, my body awake and energized. Certainly it helps that I’m away from power lines, cell phone towers, neighbors’ WiFi, and the pervasive, invisible pollution that makes life challenging for one who struggles with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). Yet the shift I feel is also something more than exercise, good as that is: the power of being in wild nature is working its way through my soles into my very cells, breath and soul.
The playful, curious, childlike part of myself feels near to hand, the one who is utterly content to crouch down and consider the wonder of a miniature pink flower at my unclad feet, or wander over to a gnarled oak and lay hands upon its rough bark, gazing up at the great spread of moss-hung boughs and branches. (The archetypal energies of Child and Wild Soul are closely related, I think.)
Life grabs and clutches at us all, piling details and demands high on the plate. Apart from work, there is always something insisting to be done now, today. And how easy it is to set aside those seemingly less-important elements, rituals, and self-care that really nourish us. At what cost…?
Following a narrow deer track through wet grass, my feet muddy, I decide, I need to do this much more often. Make time for it. Weekly at the very least, as with my Friday morning ritual of shopping the farmer’s market at the college in Monterey. There are semi-wild places like Garland Ranch within ten minutes of my doorstep, and while it requires driving to reach them (the factor that usually deters me), I owe it to myself to get out as part of my self-care.
Lulled into the techno-trance of modern life, how quickly and easily we forget what’s real and who we really are. Wildness and nature are not luxuries; they are essential to my well-being, especially as a conscious soul.
It is only when I am open and expansive in body, mind, heart and soul —as I am here and now beside the river, viscerally connected to something much larger and wilder—that I embody my best self. That one who is able to love and receive love freely, fiercely, and with abandon. Unplugged and unbound is when I am most welcoming of mysterious grace; better able to follow the golden, glimmering thread that leads me onward in life, even through underground passages and darkly tangled woods of my own psyche.
How do we re-wild the heart and soul? For me, it is always in those places where a million, invisible fingers of Nature softly pry off my hardened armor and calcified shell, unlocking my essence. Barefoot on unpaved earth, beside a singing river or among the graceful trees, that is where and how I always come home to myself—the real and not-so-secret self.
Friend, step outdoors and play. Go further than your front garden, allotment, or neighborhood park. Take the damn car and get out of town to rewild yourself—even a little bit, for a couple of hours. Kick off your shoes. Cast your senses ajar. Unchain the wild soul. For amid a million distractions of the modern world, it is often only when fully immersed in the wordless, sensual, living realm that we remember our one, true imperative as beings of nature: