I used to live in the city. I rode my bike everywhere I went, unless it was snowing or icy. Then I’d walk. And when I needed to get out of the city, when I needed to reconnect to what really matters, I would ride miles and miles to get out.
This is what we would do, on a regular basis, my love and I. We’d hop on our bicycles and tear through the streets. Like a rushing river, we flowed through the traffic with ease, seeing the whole scene at once and staying in line with each other the whole way.
We’d make it to the bike path and take the trails along the river, winding past the parks and taking bridges over railroad tracks. Less and less people we passed on the path; more trees, more insects, more space in between.
We’d begin peeling eyes to find the spot. A new spot most every time. A place to be hidden. A place to see no people, no structures, no trash. A secret hideaway for lovers of wilderness.
We were that. We were lovers of wilderness living in the center of a city and we did whatever it took to get out into nature because we needed it.
All humans need wilderness, no matter how civilized they are.
When we found our spot, we’d lay the bikes down in the tall grass, or against a tree. Sometimes we’d tie up the hammock. Sometimes we’d lounge on the rocks. And sometimes we’d go walking along the river.
Always, we would explore.
Whether sitting with eyes closed or climbing a tree, we would study. We would pay attention, we would be there for it.
I would sit on a boulder in the river and listen. I would let the sound of water wash my mind. I would stand silent and still, watching a bird hop along the thicket floor, scratching in back-jumps to uncover tiny bugs. I would gather fallen leaves, or little stones, or found feathers, and I would admire them in their simple and complex forms.
When we go to nature, the simplest things become the most profound.
What is simple is the line a thin branch draws arching across the sky, like a delicate bridge leading directly to the very tip of a mountain peak in the distant horizon.
What is profound is how that line only exists for the one who stands just so, on just a day, with awareness just exactly ready to receive that precise perspective.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
Try sitting by the river, or walking in the woods, swimming across a lake, or hiking in the mountains. Try running through a meadow or leaping waves in the sea. Try lying in the sand, or the grass, or the earth, with the sun on your face and no buildings in view, with the sound of only birdsong and breeze, with nowhere to be but there.
Try being, really being out in the natural world, and see where your mind takes you then.
I doubt you’ll be thinking about the comments on your social media feed, or what you’re going to say in response to an email you’ve been delaying. It’s unlikely you’ll be fretting about the cost of gas or the latest upset in current politics.
And yet, if you are thinking about any societal mind-snatching things while out in nature, I would be willing to bet that you would have a different perspective on those matters than you normally do while in the thick of the civilized world.
When we go to nature, we remember what is real.
And it is not always well-mannered.
A moth trapped in the web of a spider creates waves of flailing desperation that give its captor an even stronger sense of resolve.
A baby bird falls from the nest before its wings are ready to catch flight.
A lightning bolt strikes a tree.
When we allow the wild world to impart its treasures of beauty and brutality, of tranquility and tragedy, of grace and chaos into our hearts, we reconnect to our own wildness.
When we go into the wild natural world, we remember that we are nature, too, and that all expressions of nature are part of the great cycle.
“But then I went outside, and I stood very still in the night, and I looked at the sky, and knew some day I’d die, and then everything would be all right. It’s all right.” —Bonnie Prince Billy
Go outside. Get away from buildings and traffic and people.
Even if you live in the city and you don’t have a bike, or a car, or a way to get far away, go to a place where you feel surrounded by the natural world.
Find a spot with plants and no concrete. Find a place you can be without anyone able to see you.
If you live in the country and have the blessing of being surrounded by nature most of the time, this may be equally challenging. You must peel back the veil of normalcy. You must dive deeply into it as though experiencing the natural world for the first time.
Immerse yourself in it. Look around. Really look. Really Listen. Touch a bed of river stones. Smell flowers or tree bark or grass. Taste the air.
Sit or walk or swim or climb. Take your time. Be there. Be out there a while.
Let yourself rest in the medicine of the natural world.
Please do this. Please do this for yourself. Please do this for the world.
Spring began on February 3, 2017, according to the Chinese seasonal calendar. Those of us in the Northern hemisphere are now in the second phase of the season, called Rain Water. As the increase in rain and sun begin to stir the seeds within the ground to start their journey up and out into the world, we’ll have more and more opportunity to get out into the natural world, too.
No one can describe these spring stirrings better than child prodigy, Opal Whitely, who grew up in the forests of Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the early 1900s. Her mystical childhood diary gently and powerfully puts forth the truth of wilderness into poetry that we can all understand.
I’ll leave you with a quote from The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, the newest publication of Opal’s childhood dairy with a biography and afterward by Benjamin Hoff. Opal, at the age of perhaps eight here, writes:
While we did have waiting at the bend of the road, I saw a maple tree with begins of buds upon it. I did walk up to the tree. I put my ear to it, to have listens to the sap going up. It is a sound I like to hear— there is so much of springtime in it.
May you, too, listen to the sound of sap within a maple tree. May you, too, hear the words of the wind and the answers of the plants.
May you find yourself some wilderness and restore your glad feels.
How do you get your nature dose? Your comments are always read, responded to, and absolutely appreciated.
Know someone who needs to read this? Sharing The Listening Seed with those in your circle is one of the best ways to support my work, and I have overflowing gratitude for all the times you may do it.