"Always in big woods," said Wendell Berry, "when you leave familiar ground and step off alone to a new place, there will be, along with feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are understanding the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is the experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes common ground, and a common bond, and we cease to be alone."
The small woodland behind my studio is only a "prettyish kind of a little wilderness," as Jane Austen might describe it, and not a proper wilderness. And yet the wild can be found here. It's in the ancient language of oak and owl, and the air-ballet of spore and seed. It's in the midnight revels of the badgers, and the morning light on leaf, moss, and rock.
“Of course," said Henry David Thoreau, "it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit."
Sometimes Tilly and I roam old, familiar trails grown unfamiliar with each turning of the seasons, and sometimes I just pick a spot and sit. Until my spirit is truly present. Listening. Watching. Learning. Healing. Practicing the art of being still.
"Oh how can I say this: People need wild places," writes Barbara Kingsolver. "Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to be able to taste grace and know again that we desire it. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers. To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own."
The Berry quote is from An Unforseen Wilderness, and the Kingsolver quote from Small Wonder. The woodland photographs were taken yesterday afternoon. Today is stormy, and Tilly (who hates thunder) is hiding under the bedclothes.