Why should I care about Wildness? I ask myself. I am not someone who feels particularly that ‘call of the wild’. I like my town life, with its coffee shops and paved garden paths and the community of people I run into constantly on the streets. I do not yearn to live in some rugged wilderness, beautiful though it may be.
So what does Wildness have to offer me?
“Rewilding is not going backwards, to live in the woods…It’s reconnecting to that wildness dormant inside of you,” says Lucy Purdy in her article on Rewilding Human Nature.
The idea of ‘Wildness’ brings with it fierce imagery, frightening emotions. Uncontrollable power. Destructive potential. Loneliness. Survival. And death. These are what come to me when first the word ‘Wild’ is spoken.
And yet in my experience, it is on walks through the woods and in ‘the wild’ that all the roles and faces and identities I carry, all my expectations of others and myself, most easily fall away. It is often in ‘the wild’ that I am allowed, briefly, to simply be myself.
It is in those moments when I have stared up at the night sky, my face turning away from the heat and smoke of a blazing fire, and felt the stillness and space that I recognise also in myself.
This is a kind of ‘quiet’ wildness that feels true and deep and natural to me.
There are two stories I read to my children. One is called Where the Wild Things Are, and recounts the tale of a mischievous and very imaginative boy who is sent to his room as punishment and then watches as his room becomes a jungle, “his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around”. The boy sets off in a boat to the place where the Wild Things are and, there, meets ferocious looking monsters which he tames with magic. In the company of the Wild Things, the boy runs and plays, swings from trees and howls at the moon, but eventually he misses home and abandons the Wild Things for his mother’s love and a warm dinner.
The other story is called The Last Wild Witch. This story is different, for here ‘wild’ doesn’t mean monstrous or dangerous, but rather natural and full of playful joy. The Last Wild Witch lives in the forest with the other animals, singing and stirring her magic brew, and “when the wind was out of the West, carrying wildness with it” it blows into the town and into the bedrooms of the children and “some of the wildness would get inside them”. This wildness leads the children into joyful play (yes, rather than following rules). It also brings a sense of connection with nature and a wisdom that eventually saves the forest from destruction and the townspeople from themselves.
What strikes me about these two children’s books is that they perfectly capture the divide in our understanding of wildness. While one considers ‘Wildness’ destructive behaviour, which is unable to be contained and must therefore be abandoned, the other incorporates wildness as part of our joyful, interconnected nature. Wildness as meaning ‘our true nature’ without the artificial constructs, rules, and identities we take on.
I have been reading another book called Women Who Run With the Wolves which reminds me of the other side of ‘wildness’ — keen sensing, playful spirit, great endurance and strength, deep intuition, intense concern with their young and their pack, experience in adapting to changing circumstances, and bravery. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes how we feel a ‘taste of the wild’ in pregnancy and birth, in love for our mates and our families and our community of friends. We feel it when we grow things in our gardens and when we spend time and care cooking a meal. We feel it when we are alone, when we gaze out to sea, across mountains or up into the eternal depths of the night sky.
This sense of natural ‘wildness’ connects us to our planet and to our uncomplicated selves.
I started this question about ‘wildness’ for myself, here, and in conversation with Clay Lowe during our weekly Havana Sessions podcast.
But I don’t know yet where it ends.
What is your understanding of what it means to be ‘wild’. Are there times where you feel a sense of ‘wildness’ in your life? Times when you don’t?