Rewilding the Heart: Finding Nature

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. Slowly, like a lengthening shadow, domesticity creeps up on me once more.

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First golden poppy

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 begins to wither. Nature boy that I am, I don’t do 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 great Grandmother Monterey cypress tree, my daily wordless communion with the beauty that surrounds us 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. And there’s a daily walk with two English Whippets though the leafy and pine-clad neighborhood, and tactile, sensory work each evening in my kitchen to create a fresh, organic and nourishing meal for the nightly candlelit supper.

Yet despite it all, I realize that I’m feeling restless, blue, or burdened (sometimes all of them at once), and despite my on-again, off-again yoga practice and the deep-tissue massage last week, I am slightly stooped and my shoulders remain rounded inwards. Guarded. Contained. Rigid. 

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Deer tracks in soft earth

It’s a strange paradox that delivering our soul work in life often requires us to be engaged in the so-called ‘real world’ in challenging or merely tedious ways (time at the computer, social media, networking and promotion, et al.). Like so much of life, the key seems to be in finding balance, but 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; she meant it as a compliment, she’s a wild soul herself.

Partially plant or not, I droop when too long planted in the domestic garden. I wonder, with tending the hearth and home, what sort of Green Man 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 meadow or the underbrush? Foraged and gathered wild miner’s lettuce for my dinner? 

I need to set work and burdens aside and get out of town, wandering barefoot in nature for awhile. 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’m caught in a conflicted relationship with majestic and wild Big Sur, as outlined in the first post of last year’s 3-part series, “Leaving My Shoes Along the Trail“).

Garland Ranch Regional Park in Carmel Valley is a roughly 4500-acre preserve; it stretches from a willow-lined river along a cotton-sycamore floodplain, up into a wild expanse of hills covered in oak and chaparral (there’s a redwood canyon if you 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. Everywhere in town the trees explode into colorfully scented fireworks, and formerly bare branches now leaf out with tender green shoots. 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℉ (16℃), the day is 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.

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Carmel River, February

Two years ago, 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, but it suited my needs and modest budget for a writer’s retreat. Perched on a hillside, what it lacked in amenities and furnishings, it made up for with 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 died down, 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 streams amid the mostly bare trees, I realize with something like a soft pang in my heart that I have missed the gentle song of my sparkling, wild friend. 

Winter feels like it is on the run, and the willows along the muddy bank are all brushed with new green in an almost audible explosion of life. Yet much as I love the waterway, I don’t like the noise of the road, so once I have crossed over the bridge, rather than take the riverside trail, I head across the freshly sprouted floodplain and away from the highway. I’m smiling to be treading barefoot in the tender green grass, savoring how good it is to be out of town and wandering solo… gently re-wilding myself.

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Green floodplain at Garland Ranch

Beneath a cerulean blue sky strewn with white puffy clouds, I feel my shoulders rolling back, my chest opening again. At midday, the deer are sheltered among the trees and I haven’t seen them, but I have found and followed their tracks in the soft earth. There isn’t any miner’s lettuce here on the plain, it prefers a shady hillside, but I’ve plucked a few weeds that called to me and nibbled their tart bitterness like a wild, foraging creature. Early spring medicine.

Eat the wild. It transforms you.

I haven’t been walking even half an hour when I realize that my entire existence has shifted: I am happy and smiling, my body feels 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). The shift I feel is also something more than exercise, good as that is; it is the power of nature working its way through my soles into my very cells, breath and soul.

I feel the playful, curious, childlike part of myself near to hand, the one who is 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 child and wild soul are closely related.)

Life grabs at us all, piling details and demands high on our plate. Even 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 and rituals that really nourish us. But 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 nearly at my doorstep, and while it requires driving to reach them (usually what deters me), I owe it to myself to do so as part of my self-care.

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Tout est dit… all is said.

Lulled into the technotrance of modern life, how quickly and easily we forget. Wildness and nature are not luxuries; they are essential to our well-being, especially as conscious souls.

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: the 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, and also better able to follow the golden, glimmering thread that leads me onward in life, even through underground passages and darkly tangled woods. 

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 the heart. 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 essential, real, and not-so-secret self.

Friend, go 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. Unsheathe your wild soul. For amid the million distractions of our modern world, it is often only when we are fully immersed in the wordless, sensual, living realm that we remember our one, true imperative as beings of nature: Grow.

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