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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Do we need the wild?

A friend threw out a question she was pondering, which in turn had been posed to her by another friend.  "Do we need the wild?" 

At first pass, I thought the real question is why we ask this question, because my immediate answer was absolutely yes.  We can only ask this question if we see ourselves as somehow separate from "wild", however we define it.  At its worst, the question betrays the extraordinary level of artificial separation a small percentage of humanity has been able to create, on borrowed time and stolen resources, from the natural systems that sustain us.  We can maintain it only briefly and at increasing environmental, social, and economic cost.  When viewed from this angle, the real question is how long can we keep up the charade.

Petroglyph, Olympic National Park, WA.  Photo: J.A. Gervais

However, the question becomes far more interesting and far more complex on further reflection.  The Wild is the world beyond the comfortable circle of light thrown around the campfire ring, the impenetrable and sometimes terrifying world that harbors gods, demons, and other spirits that are beyond our control and often deaf to our supplication.  We are a part of this Wild, certainly, but more as stepchildren watching deep rituals beyond our capacity to master or to understand.  This Wild is one we fear and venerate, the one we approach with intermediaries and sacrifices held out as flimsy shields to protect ourselves even as we seek it.

This Wild has largely been forgotten in a human world whose cultures are increasingly dominated by materialism and gratifying any immediate whims, where the idea of something larger, something out beyond our self-imposed fence of goods and gratification, has been exiled like some sort of childhood legend for which we have no further need.  Most of the time, until some catastrophe slips out of the darkness and across the circle of self-imposed limit, laying bare the belief that we are all we need.  War, natural disasters, sickness, and loss of those we love to things that have no purpose are windows back into the dark and dangerous world we cannot control.

Stone circle, Island of Arran, Scotland.  Photo: J.A. Gervais

What draws us outside of ourselves, calls us to any higher purpose or holds us to any greater standards that might require us to act directly against our own immediate interests?  What guides us to see ourselves as taking our place within the larger mystery, which holds both the inanimate earth and all of the life forces within it?

This is the realm of the spiritual.  Arguably, we need to acknowledge our ties to this dimension of our world just as much as we need to acknowledge our dependence on fertile soil, fresh air, clean water, and the other inhabitants of land and ocean.  We may find echos of the spiritual Wild in a church, or a temple, or out in the woods; what resonates within each of us is a function of our culture, our upbringing, our experiences, and is deeply personal.

Do we need the wild?  Do we need souls and the spiritual, the belief in something greater and more durable than ourselves?  The two questions are really one and the same.

Olympic mountains, WA.  Photo: J.A. Gervais

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