The Dismemberment Journals Part VII: The Wild Places Among, And Within, Us
The elkhound and I are out at the time of the morning when the grass stalks are still frost covered, but their tips have already thawed. They are dripping and drooping with the weight of dew. We are sopping from our ankles down. The sun is already warm and insistent in its springtime relationship with this earth. Like a new courtship. Remembering something Martin Prechtel said, “don’t go home the same way twice,” we turn right in the field where usually we turn left, and come upon a stand of old trees with which we have not yet acquainted ourselves.
As I’m standing there I have the sensation there is someone standing over me. I look up and realize I’m directly underneath a giant cottonwood. Right above my head is a beautiful branch bowing down to meet me. It is instinct that takes over next. My right arm reaches up as if in a very familiar gesture and I run my hand along the smooth skin of the branch feeling the round receptive places, the strong places, the bowing-down places. And all of a sudden I am 7 years old and I’m standing beneath the big draught horse who saved my life. His hot breath breathing down on the top of my head. My hand, tiny compared to his giant head, so gently received by his velvet muzzle.
We work around the forsaken places, the places that have forgotten how to be Wild. I walk along a massive irrigation drainage ditch. The phrase itself reminding me of the inhuman experience of my early social work years at a major Ivy League teaching hospital and the wound care terminology I was forced to learn: drains, irrigation, curettage and all of that. I’m walking along a barbed wire fence which, except for scale, is basically the same structure surrounding places of human imprisonment. This fence – I’m not sure what it’s for – to keep the enslaved water in or to keep me out. I’m sure people would tell me it’s for my own safety. Though I cannot see it, I hear the water rushing the ditch, its force crammed into a small narrow space. I vow to find a way in, but not this morning.
I am certain catastrophic things happen to the human psyche when elemental forces like the planets’ water are enslaved. I see women, week after week in my private practice, who can’t for the life of them find their full sexual expression. They are terrified of it. They’ve got no idea what it looks like. Of course this is true. In our current state of cultural domestication the full feminine sexual expression is Enemy of The State. The full feminine voice of YES toward the wildness that is life, the impulse that has us birthing our babies without medical intervention and drugs, that has us throwing our heads back and our hearts and legs open to the surrender of our sexual pleasure, requires our unapologetic fierce NO towards the domestication of these elemental forces. These elemental forces are us. They are ours. We belong to them. Our modern sex-positive sexuality, encased in vibrators, feather boas and hand cuffs, like our mono-cropped lawns made perfect with chemicals and plastic ornamentation, feel a lot like this water surrounded by barbed wire fences and no trespassing signs.
Over the recent course of our new relationship with this particular part of the earth, this land we walk every morning, I notice I need to stay in relation to the elkhound frequently during each wander; calling his name, asking him to look at me. I’m sure if I didn’t do this I might just turn around at some point and he’d simply be gone, vanished back into the woods his coyote ancestors come from. The perils of Wildness don’t seem to be in his awareness. He's only marginally here to begin with. Begrudgingly he attends to me. But only just enough. Especially these days, with my own dismantling, I feel the same way. I have worked so hard to be here in the domesticated Dayworld, yet to remain a voice for our Wildness. Lately, I am questioning my place here.
There is now a daily vigil around the cottonwoods which are home to the great horned owl family. People gather with their lawn chairs, thermoses, log books and gigantic telephoto zoom lenses. In between thrilling photo-op sightings of the owl mother’s head peeking out of the hole in her tree, the people stand around talking ironically about our lost capacity to be stewards of this earth, sitting with their sketch pads and their watercolors rendering 1 dimensional this iconic symbol of shadow, the dark, death, vision. I want to say, “Turn your sketchbooks on yourselves! Turn your lenses on each other and say ‘There you are! There is the Wild! I see it in you! I see the tufts of the great horned owl. I hear the laugh of the coyote, the great whooshing wing flapping of the blue heron. There it is, right there, in YOU!’”
We watch Wildlife like it is television. We have turned Wildness into a spectator sport requiring only thermoses and lawn chairs for our participation. And in this way we only alienate ourselves further from the Wildness that is, of course, right here within us. We are in a state of self-imposed starvation here, as we destitute ourselves of our Wildness.
As the elkhound and I come to the end of our morning wander, back into the human living spaces, the domestic dwelling places, we pass a small playground with a boy and girl sitting on swings. Not thirty feet behind them is a wetland pond filled with snakes, ducks, a red tail hawk and a heron or two. No doubt some turtles. There is a robin, breast flagrantly, unapologetically bright scarlet, singing his guts out on the top bar of the swing set. And the boy, maybe 10, sits on the swing just below this, slumped over his iPhone. On this day, the grief that comes as a result of the ending of my marriage to the Earthquake Man gets put into perspective by the grief I feel as a result of our lost human Wildness. Though of course, they are not unrelated. And somehow, with the insistence of Spring’s impulse toward Life, I feel full. It is all right here, if we dare pay attention.