I went to a riveting panel discussion recently regarding our relationship with Nature. We’re not talking about gardens here, or pleasure walks at the local National Trust: we’re talking about wild, non-cultivated, unencumbered, there-might-be-a-bear-in-the-woods Nature. One of the speakers, Nina Lyon, made a comment about our inability to get truly lost in our home country of England and it really struck a chord with me. England is certainly beautiful and exciting in its way, but it is far from an untouched wilderness.
This has its perks, of course. There are no deadly creatures to accidentally stumble upon, and there is little chance of your gentle stroll down the country lanes resulting in a six week search-and-rescue operation. It is nice to be able to walk through the forest without your Spidey-sense on alert for bears. So why is it that there is a deep, deep ache within me to wander in the wild, far far away from the touch of humans? Why do I feel an indisputable sense of loss and regret that it is so hard to find a piece of true wilderness? Why do I yearn for the thrill of the wild?
I have never known deep wilderness so this need obviously comes from somewhere deep within me beyond the socially-trained parts of my mind. It is instinctual, animal.
This yearning for natural wilderness is the longing of the wild part of us: the part that needs to be free from constraint, from man-made impositions, to wander and roam, to run and climb until our chests are heaving with the power of our lungs. There is a part in all of us that wants to dance under the untamed skies, the rolling clouds, the starry backdrop to the looming trees, and to think with our instincts and senses rather than our logical mind, to follow the scent and colours of the natural world.
I think that a lack of experience of the wilderness has caused us to lose our understanding of our place in the world. We are not in symbiosis, or in equilibrium with the world. We try to shape it, tame it, control it, be bigger than it. We imprint ourselves everywhere. We think we are important if we are bigger than Nature when, actually, the reverse is the truth (whether we like to admit it or not). But, I think it may also have caused us to lose our full understanding of ourselves.
Wildness has been trained out of us over the centuries – or, rather, we have been trained to inhibit it. And we are doing the same to our natural world too. I don’t want to actively seek danger but somehow I feel that by not really experiencing the wildness of Nature I am not really seeing, understanding or experiencing myself. It is as though there is something fundamental and innate that resides deep within my core, my essence as an intellectual creature and an animal, that I just don’t know. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I feel that our modern lifestyle has me in fetters. That the warm four walls of my house are like a straight jacket for my spirit. There is an undeniable animal within me that rages against the cage of modernity and convenience that disconnects us from the essence of the planet we live on.
I am not insensible to the unpredictability of Nature, or of the dangers. But I grieve for the lack of wilderness and wildness. It is the grief of the beautiful animal inside of me that I barely understand.
I can’t help but wonder what might we have lost about ourselves by no longer being able to get truly lost?