What is the Standpoint of Rewilding?
A standpoint can be viewed as coming from the existence of living at the margins, at the boundaries of a sociocultural/sociopolitical/socioeconomic landscape, living through a resistance to the “middle.” A fundamental aspect of my standpoint is my life-long aversion to modernity and what it calls “civilization.” My life has been guided to the margins by my intuitive sense that their is something fundamentally wrong with what we collectively agree to be “progress,” this modern life filled with its unsustainable conveniences of a high-tech built environment and human systems that are existentially isolated from the life-giving systems of the Earth. The conditioning of modernity, the collective domestication of living in a “civilized society,” can be viewed as a form of collective dis-ease, as a form of collective mental illness, as a form of collective fragmentation of our fullness as being humans in right-relationship to the Earth and one another. With this noted, “rewilding” is a restorative practice/process where one enters into an intentional space of evaluating the ecologically-appropriateness of our daily lives.
Rewilding is an experiential look into questions like: Why is it we live the lives we live? What are the cultural attitudes and beliefs that support our daily behaviors and ways of life? What is at the core of the collective uneasiness that many of us feel, but often cannot articulate its fullness or origins? What does living in “right-relationship” (ecological sanity) to the Earth and one another really mean? Are we willing to question the very foundation of what we call “civilization”? What type of relationships is this “civilized society” built upon? How much of our daily lives is completely taken for granted and existing within collective blind-spots that are threatening our very survival? Why do words like “wild” and “primitive” have negative connotations within the middle of modern society?
The Rewilding of the Human Spirit & The Ecological Self
I firmly believe the ecological crisis we are currently facing is a direct result of modernity’s fundamental disconnection from the natural world. This is to say, through our modern convenient lives, we have engineered the human spirit out of the natural world; through our shortsighted and mostly unconscious development of technological advances, we have engineered the natural world out of being human. For the most part, the collective human psyche does not have space for nature. The most terrifying aspect of this disconnect is that it is primarily unrecognized by the masses, and this current state of the human-nature disconnect has become normalized to a zombiatic level.
To heal this ecological crisis we must become mindful and self-reflexive with our continued use and development of technologies, as well as return the wild nature to our being human. The world desperately needs the human spirit to become rewild; humanity cannot survive without its wild spirit. The ecological world will only be healed once the human-nature relationship has been healed.
Don’t you long for an intimate relationship with nature? Not one that is a weekend fling, or a monthly or even yearly vacation into “out there,” but a daily communion of the soul within its birth place, which is nature.
This fundamental disconnect has helped to create a dichotomous view of the natural and the built environments. Many of us see ourselves as being apart from nature instead of a part of nature. Many of us believe wilderness is a magical place void of humans, a place where humans only visit and are not at home “out there.” The concept of “wilderness” is a Western cultural idea, which is rooted in the egocentric individualistic sense of self. Not identifying with the wildness of nature comes from a fundamental misidentification and fear of being the “rational animals” that we are. If we truly knew who we were we would treat nature as if it were our sacred mother, and not some objectified external pile of resources to be exploited and to be consumed, or even conserved. I wish more environmentalists would understand how destructive this concept of “wilderness” truly is to their efforts of trying to protect the natural environment. The more this false dichotomy is nurtured, by either side of the environmental war, the more the natural world will be abused and consumed in the name of modernity and in the name of Western individualism.
How are the masses going to wake up to their natural identity, to their ecological self? What is an effective way of reappraising one’s held attitudes and beliefs about the natural environment as well as one’s sense of self?
One’s identification with a “self” is actually a constructed metaphor, and this is true from both spiritual and scientific perspectives. Just as one chooses, either consciously or unconsciously, to maintain one’s belief system (e.g., cultural, political, religious, etc.), one can choose to either expand or contract one’s sense of self. As Joanna Macy refers to it, this “Greening of the Self” is how we as a species are going to heal our relationship with the ecological world, which we are a part of and not apart from. We cannot afford to continue to view ourselves and our world through a small egocentric perspective, which fragments our fundamental understanding of our complex world and our interdependence within the natural environment. The separate sense of self, which hyper-individualism fosters, must wither up and become a part of history. Just as a normally developing child matures past their highly egocentric state of being, we as a culture must mature psychologically past our egocentric tendencies. If we cannot psychologically mature past egocentrism, we will continue down this path of becoming the culture of dis-ease and destruction.
How can one mindfully develop past an egocentric perspective? One way is to practice taking on the perspective of others.
I spend a lot of time in the snowy mountains in the winter, usually skiing solo. This type of solo backcountry adventure affords one a very unique opportunity, which is taking on the perspective of the “more-than-human” world, which David Abram has written about. The goal of taking on the more-than-human perspective is to expand one’s view past the highly normalized anthropocentric (human-centered) paradigm, which is arguably at the heart of our current ecological crisis. The belief that humans are superior to the rest of life on earth, ironically, is killing all life on earth. We will not fix our world with technological means; the only way we are going to recover from this ecological crisis is through a radical change in how the dominant cultural institutions interact with the more-than-human world. However, not all cultures are seemingly stuck in this human-centered paradigm. Many indigenous cultures have long viewed the more-than-human world as being just as important as human existence and ways of life.
If you have not tried to take on the perspective of the more-than-human world, then I strongly encourage you to do so. If you have a pet, then start there. Once you have tried this perspective with animals, then see if you can apply it to an entire landscape, and then to the entire earth.
Do you have a favorite place in nature? What do you think it needs from us? What do you think the more-than-human world needs from us?
If you are successful with this type of perspective exercise, then you may just come to a realization there really is no “other.” All is one.
This winter, I have been working to rewild my human spirit through spending solitary time in wild places as well as practicing the expansion of my sense of self to include the natural environment. The intentions of this type of ecotherapy work is a deep healing of the mind, body, and spirit, as well as how they all are connected to the environment. This often is done in the high alpine of the Cascade Mountains, and especially the natural landscape of Crater Lake National Park. This expanded sense of self is referred to as the “ecological self” and is quite different from the norm of Western views and beliefs, which are based in the concept of the separate individual self. In short, the concept of the ecological self is more in line with the most current understandings of life here on earth, through systems theory and ecology. The ecological self is an expanding view of the self, which includes more and more of the phenomenal world.
What does it mean to have a sense of self that includes the natural environment?
I have found that cross-country skiing can be a moving meditation, which is fertile ground for introspection as well as conceptual contemplation. It is a beautiful metaphor of exploring the complexities of a landscape, both inner and outer.
On a recent solo backcountry ski trip, I asked the guiding question – What does it mean to have a sense of self that includes the natural environment? – I started to hear a suggestion from the landscape. As I rhythmically skied along, I spontaneously started to repeat the following mantra: “This body moves through me.” I started to see myself from above, as if I were having an out-of-body experience. I started to see myself through the eyes of the landscape. This was a very powerful moment, to say the least! It was both liberating and unsettling, but overall I experienced a deep sense of peace and stillness.
The following is a poem that came to me through this practice of expanding the sense of self as I skied along through and merged with this awe-inspiring landscape. As I sat and ate my lunch on the rim of Crater Lake, I wrote it out on paper:
This body moves through me.
I see him from above and below
from side to side
from front and back
This body moves through me.
I feel his feet upon me.
I feel his cold skin as I blow.
My light rays bring warmth to his face
and a smile in his heart.
I hear his breathing
and his gratitude.
This body moves through me.
Sometimes he even stops
and drinks in my beauty.
Sometimes he even reaches out
to touch me.
He feels my rough bark
and thanks me for the clean air to breath.
He strokes my fine needles
and then smells my rich forest scent.
This body moves through me.
His little mind
thinks he is separate from me.
His little mind
gets in his way of knowing he and I are the same.
Once in awhile he knows we are one
but he listens to this little mind
and forgets who he really is.
This body moves through me.
Who am I?
I am the dirt
and the forest that grows from me.
I am the snow
that keeps me warm in the winter while I rest.
I am the water
that the snow melts into.
I am the ocean
where all rivers meet.
I am the clouds
that bring the snow and rain.
I am the sun
that makes it all go around.
I am this earth
and your body moves through me.
I am this universe
and you and I are the same.
Another rewilding practice is simply being naked with nature; there is great healing potential within intentional vulnerability. Much of our modern lives are experienced through a physical separation from the natural world, our rigid structures, our vehicles, and even our clothing. There are some very interesting connections between our cultural oppression of the naked body, and how we treat the natural environment. It would appear we are conditioned to be ashamed of our “wild nature” and view it as a type of savagery. Ironically, the oppression of the naked body is actually quite uncivilized.
Another way of being more vulnerable with nature is to walk barefoot upon the earth. This rewilding practice is a powerful way of literally reconnecting with the natural environment. It not only reveals how fragile our bodies have become through our constructed separation from the natural world, but it also encourages us to slow down and be more mindful as we move through a landscape. Walking barefoot upon the earth will change how you look at your chosen path as well as how you experience the journey. Please do not underestimate the potential of this simple rewilding practice. Be patient with it.
Our modern way of life has removed us from many of the ancient life-giving forces, which we evolved with over time. Fire, for example, holds a vital place in our human-nature psyche, and the loss of a regular relationship with fire is an integral characteristic of our disconnect with the natural environment. Building a small fire on a regular basis can be an effective form of ecotherapy with the intentions of healing our disconnect with nature. This fire does not have to be way out in the wild, it can be right in your backyard or even within your fireplace. What is important is the intention of the fire building, tending, and appreciating. When we approach fire with a sacred perspective it returns us to the life-giving relationship we once had collectively. However, if you can build a fire in the wild, the potential for its positive influences upon your human-nature relationship become greater.
My intentions are to help you reappraise your human-nature relationship, and to realize how fundamental it is to our overall wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of all life on earth, and to the earth’s wellbeing. We all are vital parts of nature; we are not separate from nature. We all are co-creators of the culture we belong to, and in the end, it is up to us where we are choosing to go. Our culture has lost its way, and desperately needs a course correction and an awakening of the sense of ecological self. We have been seduced by the half-truth notion of a “strong individual,” and this individualistic ideology is a form of misidentification and mental illness, which is rotting humanity from within. A healthy community has strong individuals within its relational system, but these individuals are interdependent upon the entire community. We are not autonomous beings. We have collectively forgotten where we have come from, and this generational amnesia is threatening our very survival as a species. We must find the courage to question the cultural attitudes and beliefs that have lead us away from nature, because if we cannot, we are destined to live in a dark world of machines and holograms of a world that once was naturally beautiful. We must rewild our human spirits, and we must do it now!
29 Days of Rewilding
February 1st, 2015.
The first activity is to go find a tree to sit with for thirty minutes. Pretty simple, just find a tree and sit with it in a state of observation. Well, I cannot think of a better place to go find a tree to sit with than the Forest Park of the City of Jacksonville. The trails there take one by many beautiful trees.
I decided to incorporate this rewilding exercise into a trail run. The trail I was running onfollows the creeks for most of its course, and takes one through some beautiful mixed forest. After about thirty minutes of running, I found the tree! It was a beautiful madrone tree, and it reached out and grabbed me with its bent over forked trunk. I could not resist it’s pull. It had a perfect little perch for me to sit on, and I had to choose it.
Recently, I have been asking for permission to be with the forest, to touch the forest beings. Asking for permission is an ancient way of being with nature, which embodies the intention of humbly entering the community. It is a show of respect for their lives and dignity. Yes, nature has the right to dignity!
So, after asking to sit with this beautiful madrone tree, I carefully crawled up onto this bent over branch-like trunk and took a seat. Almost immediately, my mind went to the insecure place of – “I wonder what someone would think if they walked by on the trail and saw me sitting up in this tree?” Well, luckily I got past that thought really quick, and started to just appreciate this beautiful being for its presence, for its sturdy, rooted, treeness.
As I sat there with this madrone tree, I noticed the obvious cycles of death-birth that the forest is filled with, which makes the forest possible. The tree I was sitting on was growing out of an old, large, rotten fir tree stump, and there was a small fir tree nestled right next to the madrone. I figured this juvenile fir tree was probably related to the dead old fir, and it all gave me a sense of continuity, not permanence. Rather, I was sitting in the cycle of life that makes the forest. I felt the flow of nature’s continuity. I also acknowledged my place within this cycle of death-birth and continuity, and it was a peaceful feeling.
As I continued to sit there and observe the tree and its place, I started to write out what came to mind. A poem started to take form, and here is what came to me from sitting in that madrone tree:
~ Sitting with the Madrone ~
Noticing cycles of death-birth
over and over again.
Trees growing out of dead old trees.
Living together with each other’s death and life.
Death-birth over and over again.
Forest smells come to me
and I to them.
The peeling multi colored bark of the madrone
looks like a tattered old book
or a fancy dress or shirt.
but so perfect.
Nothing in place
but nothing out of place.
Its fragile to my touch
but doesn’t seem to mind
the loss of some worn out bark.
Are those mountain lion claw marks I see?
I snap off dead little branches
that are in my way
but it appears to be okay
because they stopped serving
and now can return to the dirt
where they came from.
So many dead trees laying down.
I wonder when this one will return to the dirt?
I hope not soon.
I hope it can continue to
reach for the sun.
I hope it can continue to
drink from the creek.
I hope it can continue to
grow with the other trees.
I hope it can continue to
support the hungry mountain lion.
I hope it can continue to
wear its fancy dress shirt.
I hope I can continue to
read from its book.
February 2nd, 2015.
The second rewilding activity is to go barefoot outside for thirty minutes. No worries! Oh yeah, it’s winter in Southern Oregon, and that means it’s cold and wet out. Nevertheless, I was stoked to go try this activity at a not so normal time of the year (I spend a lot of time running around barefoot in the hot summer time as a river guide on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River).
I chose to hike up Lower Table Rock with the idea of doing the barefoot thing up on top of the rock mesa, which is a mixture of clay-based dirt, rough volcanic rock, standing water, spongy mosses, and lots of grasses. This area also affords some privacy, if desired, because it is a large area and most folks don’t get far off the trail.
It was a rainy day, and I arrived at the trailhead at about 3:30PM, which gave me plenty of time to make the 1.5 mile hike up and then have ample time to go barefoot for thirty minutes. I was surprised to see several other folks out there hiking in the rain. In the back of my mind I was hoping there wouldn’t be anyone around so I could go for my barefoot winter hike without having to explain myself. However, after reflecting on this socioculturally conditioned response to going barefoot (feeling awkward about being “inappropriately” barefoot), I thought “What a great opportunity to talk with others about rewilding.”
My first surprise while doing this going barefoot activity happened when I was taking off my hiking boots. I set my pack down, and then started to take my boots off. As I got the first boot and sock off, I habitually held my barefoot off of the ground in order to keep it clean and dry. When I realized what I was doing, I laughed out loud! I immediately loved the activity. I also realized how perfect it was that I was doing this activity in the wintertime when going barefoot is “not normal.”
I did cross paths with one couple, but they didn’t say anything but hello. I tried not to give it much thought, but the theme of breaking out of habitual sociocultural behavior definitely was on my mind.
As I walked along the muddy path, I focused on what it felt like to be barefoot in the cold mud and on the wet grass, which lined the path. Honestly, my feet got pretty numb fairly quickly, so the feeling aspect of this activity was lessened. Even with the somewhat harsh environmental conditions, I enjoyed the sensation of being in direct contact with the land. There is a simple ease about being in direct contact with the earth. Besides the reflecting on the unlearning process of our social norms surrounding footwear (e.g., sane people wear shoes in the winter when its cold out, or put some shoes on because you’re going to step on broken glass or a nail, etc.), I really enjoyed the slowing down that happens when one goes barefoot. It made me miss summertime.
Overall, this was a great rewilding activity, and I’m extremely pleased with the outcome. I look forward to reflecting more upon this experience and writing about it at a later time. For now, going barefoot in the wintertime has helped me to realize, at a much deeper level, just how conditioned much of our everyday behavior truly is, and how these sociocultural influences are a major hurdle to overcome with one’s desire to rewild one’s human spirit.
February 3rd, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to find a small plot of nature (two-feet by two-feet), and use a micro focus to observe what was going on within this little corner of nature for at least thirty minutes. Being a ‘big picture’ type of person, this activity was a real challenge for me. Over the years of working in the snowy mountains and guiding boats down raging rivers, my baseline environmental perception is definitely a macro focus. So, this activity was a great opportunity for me to step outside my comfort zone and see things differently in nature.
I went back to the City of Jacksonville’s Forest Park as my chosen classroom, and headed for the trails. I had the creek in mind as my first choice to observe, partly due to my bias for moving water, and also because a lot of nature (bugs and animals) is in a somewhat dormant state this time of year here in Southern Oregon. As I jogged and hiked along the creek-side trail, I struggled to find the “right spot,” but managed to choose a beautiful little mossy island of rocks as my area of observation.
This little mossy island of rocks was near the middle of the small creek, and downstream about ten feet from a three-foot high waterfall. It was a serene setting of clean cold water, green trees, and mossy covered rocks and tree-trunks.
I carefully stepped down into the creek bed, and took up my observational position over this little corner of nature. The first characteristic that caught my attention was the diversity of plant life in such a small area within moving water. I am definitely not a botanist, but I could count at least nine different types of plants, which ranged from a shaggy moss to different types of grasses, and several different types of broad-leafed plants, some of which were growing under water.
There were smooth rocks, sharp rocks, and even some sand and gravel. Lots of different sized rocks within this small little spot. However, the stars of the show were definitely the three rocks that were pocking up out of the creek. These three larger rocks were covered in green life. They were alive! I was drawn to them mainly because they were radiating life in the green form, but also because the late afternoon low light made it very difficult to see through the water. The reflection on the water helped to focus my attention onto these life-covered rocks.
I spent some time gently touching some of the plants. The furry moss was my favorite. Maybe because it looked like some kind of groovy shag carpet, or maybe because it reminded me how a well worn stuffed toy animal or wet puppy felt when held close. Whatever the case may be, the furry moss was comforting to the touch. If I was small enough, I would have liked to lie down on the furry moss and watch the water flow by, and gaze up at all the moss covered rocks and tree trunks.
I intentionally did not allow myself to primarily focus on the moving water, because this is where my mind habitually will go. However, I did take some time to observe this amazing part of nature. Being directly downstream of the little waterfall, there was a continuous stream of bubbles that would find themselves running into and around the little mossy island of rocks. There were big bubbles and small bubbles; all sizes of bubbles were riding the surface of the moving water. Some of these bubbles would run into the moss-covered rocks and stop. Sometimes, other bubbles would collide with the stooped bubble, and then they would merge into one bigger bubble. These merging bubbles were beautiful metaphors for the fluid and adaptive properties of water. The water is constantly changing shape, but never fighting against the downstream run.
Another characteristic of the moving water that grabbed my attention was the visible currents of energy deflecting off the mossy rocks and creek bottom. There were many reoccurring patterns of ripples and waves, as well as a surge that came and went like the tides of the ocean. It was quite hypnotic to just stare at for minutes at a time.
As my time ran out, and the light faded into the evening, the once refreshing downstream breeze started to feel more like “Burr, I’m cold!” I actually wanted to stay longer, but it was time to go. So I thanked the little spot for sharing it space with me, and I felt a sincere respect for these little plants growing so well in such a cold wet place. I hoped the little mossy rock island enjoyed the bubbles as much as I did. As I walked down the trail I felt so at ease, so at peace. I was grateful for the clean water that all life depends upon, and for the little green plants that grow right in its strong cold current.
Overall, I really enjoyed the challenge of this micro focus rewilding activity. This process helped me to take on a different perspective on an environment I spend a lot of time within. It truly made me stretch out of my comfort zone, and I think I gained a new appreciation for the many small plants within our waterways. I don’t usually squat down in a creek bed, and stare at one little area for thirty minutes, but I think I’ll be doing it again, soon.
February 4th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was scheduled to be using a macro focus to observe the night sky with its heavenly bodies, and contemplate the vastness of the universe and one’s place within it all. However, due to our cloudy weather I chose to save this one for later, because this is one of my favorites! I skipped forward to the “time warp” activity where one envisions them-self 5,000 years back in time, and uses creative visualization to image what the landscape was like.
A part of this rewilding activity is to include the indigenous people of the land and how they probably lived and interacted with the landscape. Through my academic experience with Native American Studies and cultural anthropology, and having relearned the history of this land, meaning, history from a Native perspective instead of the American romanticized “we won the west” narrative, this particular aspect was especially painful. Here in Southern Oregon the institutionalized displacement and genocide of the indigenous peoples happened roughly 160 years ago, and to this day is a convenient void in most of the local zeitgeist. However, this is beginning to change with the sociopolitical return of some of the federally recognized tribes with their direct involvement into the management of some of the lands.
One aspect of this particular activity that I especially appreciated was the opportunity it gave to confront the collective person-nature relationship of our Western culture of modernity and its built environment.
I chose to sit on a public bench on a bridge over Ashland Creek in the picturesque town of Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is a beautiful little town with lots of parks and green spaces.
One of the goals of this rewilding activity is to envision how the landscape has been changed by human design and development. Through this time warp activity, the overlying theme that came to me was one of confinement and entombment. Our culture’s built environment fundamentally confines the natural environment into neat, clean, orderly spaces, which are not in line with the Natural Law of the earth. For example, the creek I was observing has been straitened and confined into a “permanently” constructed channel, which is made of concrete, mason work, and strategically placed natural boulders, and all done in the name of controlling the creek’s natural wandering upon the landscape, which is nature’s life giving force of creative destruction at work. Much of this current built environment surrounding Ashland Creek, is the result of the City’s response to the property damages done by the 1997 New Years flood. Instead of reappraising the sanity of building in the flood plain, the choice was to just use a stronger hand with the efforts to control the forces of nature. I wonder what all the more-than-human life surrounding the creek thinks of this design and development?
As I was sitting on the street-side bench, the word “entombment” came to me as I noticed all the impervious surfaces (e.g., concrete and pavement) surrounding the area. I envisioned all the earth below this tomb of our built environment. It was if I was experiencing the recent death of our collective person-nature relationship, and in some strange way I felt like I was a lone funeral goer. So many people walking and driving by like everything was just fine. I envisioned their/our thoughts as “Nothing to see here” as they walked on the tomb with steps of our collective denial.
How many of us are aware of this entombing of nature? The next time you walk down a sidewalk think of what’s below you, literally and metaphorically. I know of a small coastal town here in Southwestern Oregon where some of the sidewalks go right over the graves of Native Americans, literally.
How many of us feel the collective denial of the overwhelming grief associated with the recent death of our person-nature relationship?
Well, like I noted earlier, this was a deeply painful activity for me. Painful insights. This pain I feel comes from my awareness of how drastically we have changed our landscape to meet our agenda of progress, which is totally in disrespect of the Natural Law of the earth. This pain I feel also comes from the lack of acknowledgement from many of my fellow humans, and from the institutionalized system of denial of what we have done to this land and to its indigenous peoples.
February 5th, 2015.
Today was day-five of rewilding my life. The activity was to be an explorer. This one seemed like it would be normal for me, primarily because I’m an outdoor adventure leader and love to explore nature. The task at hand was to go explore a nature filled place I’ve never been before. I decided a quick hike/run up Wagner Butte in the Siskiyou Mountains would be a great choice for this afternoon. In recent years, I’ve spent a fair amount to time in the general area, but thought I had not been to the summit of Wagner Butte. Ironically, once I got up on the mountain I recalled a twenty-five year old memory of actually summiting the butte with some close friends of my younger and much wilder years. This may seem strange, and maybe it is, but I ‘ll give my interpretation a little later.
The guiding questions of this particular activity were: How do you feel? What do you find? How can you integrate more exploration into your daily life? I like these simple questions, and found them helpful for framing this rewilding activity.
After driving about 4.5 miles on the gravel Forest Service road, I reached the trailhead and immediately noticed just how windy it truly was. Earlier in the day, I saw the National Weather Service posted a “High Wind Warning” for the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains. The weather service was forecasting southwest winds from 40 to 50 MPH with gusts up to 85 MPH possible, and it appeared they were right! Not only was it super windy, it was raining sideways and the temp was 42 degrees Fahrenheit. I found myself in a state of reappraising my chosen location for being an explorer.
I stepped out of my rig, and could not help but notice the tops of the giant fir and pine trees swaying back and forth like they were all dancing to the same music and they just couldn’t sit still. Knowing what I know about this type of weather, I got back in my rig to weigh the risks. Over the years of working in the mountains and on the rivers, I have learned to observe nature for a while when there is real risk of getting caught in destructive weather. Exploring requires patience.
My experience working as a ski patroller has given me lots of opportunities to be out in the forest for high wind events such as this one. I have lots of memories of hearing trees crash nearby, and keeping a watchful eye towards the sky.
So, after a few minutes of thinking it all through, I chose to go be an explorer! It was game on! I was up for the challenge.
The answer to the first question – How do you feel? – was quite easy to answer. I felt very exposed and definitely did not know how things were going to turn out, I was on a real adventure. My eyes were scanning the tops of the trees way more than looking at the trail, where my feet were. Some of the questions and thoughts that ran through my head were: Which way is the wind coming from? How are the trees behaving in this wind? It sure is gusty! Wow, look at all the downed treetops, debris, and snapped off dead snags! This is the real deal so pay attention. It’s a good thing I’m not married, because there sure are a lot of potential widow-makers out here. Yep, I’m definitely exploring. I’m exploring this area, but more than that, I’m exploring my confidence and skill of exploring. I’m truly exploring my person-nature relationship, at a very deep level.
To make this exploration as safe as I could, I went with the strategy of looking skyward as much as possible, not wearing my hood even though it was generously raining (I wanted to have full access to my sense of hearing to be keenly aware of the sound of breaking timber), and constantly moving at a rapid pace in order to keep the target on my back a difficult one to hit. My biggest concern was actually the big dead rotten snags that were coming down, because they can hit the ground almost silently.
This strategy worked for a successful exploration, and not exclusively because I didn’t find myself under a freshly fallen tree. It worked because it kept me in a state of being challenged instead of being threatened, which is the difference between experiencing eustress (healthy stress) and distress (what most folks refer to as being “stressed”). This is a key psychological factor when exploring nature.
As I was boogying up the trail with my head on a swivel, I started to have strange feelings like I had been there before. My attention was so fixed on the treetops that I hardly had the chance to appreciate the trail, which in the end, actually helped me experience being an explorer, because I had actually been here before. It’s amazing what can be forgotten in twenty-five years.
The five-mile trail (2,000 ft. gain, topping out at 7,140 ft.) that goes to the summit of Wagner Butte passes through some beautiful open spaces where I could actually let my guard down, and return to a state of peacefully enjoying this exploration. These wide-open moments allowed my mind to make space for reflecting upon this exploring activity. One observation I made was through the realization I had actually been there before, and this was the power of the beginner’s mind for exploring nature, ourselves, and all of life. There is so much more to see in nature if we can only forget what we think we know or experienced in the past.
What did I find? I found some precious memories that were embedded in a place and not in my head. I was reminded of how powerful the sense of place is to how we interact with nature, and how sacred places like nature can hold memories for us. Nature holds memories for us that are not ours personally, but are for us collectively, they are from our ancestors. We live in a culture that views mobility as a sign of success, and as a result we have severed the secure attachment to place, which is so vital to a healthy relationship with nature, and to ourselves.
I was reminded of the power of going to the edge of one’s comfort zone, because that is where the growth happens, personal growth happens when we touch our edges of comfort. We have become so comfortable in our way of life, too comfortable. The extreme weather forced my mind and body to adapt to its uncomfortable forces (it was snowing on the summit and I actually got mildly hypothermic, but I know how to deal with it), and this allowed for me to become even more vulnerable to the reality of not knowing how things were going to turn out. My response to the extreme weather became the context of the exploration. I was exploring my attachment to the ideology of knowing anything and everything.
How can I integrate more exploration into my daily life? I think starting with the intention of recognizing my desire to live a more free life, a life more in line with nature’s view on freedom. There is a great liberation in truly exploring. Letting go of what I think I know is a powerful place live. It is not a secure or comfortable place to exist, but it would appear to be a more authentic place to be.
This was a powerful rewilding activity for me! Overall, I think one of the most profound insights I experienced was the vital reminder of how dysfunctional our collective level of comfort has become for us as a culture. Our comfortable way of life has lulled us out of being explorers. Our lives have become so predictable and filled with knowing that we have lost the love for exploring the unknown. The authentic life is a journey of not knowing. All I really know is that someday I will be blown down like the treetops, and until then, I’m going to do some exploring!
February 6th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go be with a local body of water, observe its qualities, and appraise how one’s life can flow more like water. I chose the nearby Rogue River to go stand by.
Here in Southern Oregon, we are experiencing a strong and wet weather pattern, and this means the Rogue is swollen with brown water and all kinds of debris.
As I approached the river via the Gold Ray road from the east, I immediately noticed the river’s frothy chocolate color and lots of wood floating downstream.
It was five o’clock as I parked my rig, and there was just enough light to take photos, so I rushed to get my rubber boots on and then headed down the rocky bank towards the raging water. The first obvious characteristic to notice was the constant sound of the river, which sounds a lot like the ocean, but just more consistent with less ebbing and flowing. The spot I chose has a nice rapid at high water, and is the former site of Gold Ray Dam, which was removed in September of 2010.
I stood firm on the artistically moss-lined bedrock, which the left bank is made up of in this particular place, and just allowed myself to be with the river and the water that flows through it. The consistent flow of the river has a calming affect upon my entire being; I go to the primordial home when I go to the river.
I love to be with a swollen river, not just because of the intensity of its energy, but because it represents nature’s creative forces at work. Flooding rivers create fertile soil, and all life depends upon the rich dirt for sustenance, either directly or indirectly. Ironically, this big dirty river, which would appear ugly and out of control to some, was radiating synchronized natural-beauty to my eyes. If one patiently observes the river long enough, one will start to see patterns and rhythms within its chaos.
Another characteristic of water that came to mind was its ability to clean, to wash away what is no longer needed or wanted. This was made apparent from the water’s color but also because of all the debris floating in and down the river. This particular observation brought up mixed emotions for me, because I am a steward of the river and it pains me to see so much human generated trash floating in the sacred water. How we treat water reveals a lot about how we view nature and ourselves. Water reflects a lot more than just light. We can see ourselves in the quality of the water.
What does it say about us collectively that we use our water as a dumping ground? Isn’t water the source of all life? If so, why would we be so disrespectful to our primary source of existence?
Well, over the years I learned to see trash along the riverbanks as opportunities for stewardship, and once again, there will be lots of stewardship opportunities along the banks of the Rogue River. This strategy actually works to help change my relationship with the polluting of the natural environment. I cannot stop others from throwing trash into the river, but I do get to choose the meaning I ascribe to the presence of the trash in the water and along the banks.
Working as a white-water river guide for over twenty years has given me a lot of time to observe moving water. Even with all this time on the water, I am still mesmerized by its graceful and seemingly effortless flow. The river is a beautiful embodiment of nature’s constant desire for equilibrium; the water flowing down a river naturally fills in the voids that are created by obstructions in the downstream flow. Water is such a great teacher of conflict resolution. Water naturally fills in the need.
Due to my extensive experience with moving water, this particular rewilding activity encouraged me to use the beginner’s mind to see the water anew. I think this personal aspect of this rewilding activity was an especially poetic, in that, one can never step into the same river twice because it is always changing, always creating a new body of water. This activity helped me to remember how critical it is to try to look at water with new eyes whenever I can. To never take it for granted.
Overall, I see this rewilding activity of being with water as a great way to return one’s consciousness of existence to the most primordial level; we are primarily made of water, we evolved out of the water, and our existence is directly dependent upon the quality and availability of water. Water reflects back to us the quality of our person-nature relationship. How we treat water reveals our core beliefs and attitudes towards the natural environment.
For me personally, in this life, I am constantly trying to be like water, to emulate its ability to resolve conflicts with ease and fluidity. I will continue to look to water as a teacher of this being human with ease and grace in the face of adversity. I strive to follow water’s lead and not be afraid of going to the lowest places in this human life, because as the river returns to the lowest place on earth, the ocean, I, too, should be wiling to reach down to the low places and fill the need.
February 7th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to explore one’s relationship to air. Breathing may be the most taken for granted aspect of being human. The air we breathe is the result of many interconnected processes on this planet, and its presence is not a guarantee! Most of the air we breathe comes from the marine plants in the ocean (70%) and the rest is primarily from forests.
How often do you think about the air you are breathing?
This activity had a few parts: Hold your breath as long as possible, and see what it feels like to struggle without air. What does it feel like to have air flowing through you? Contemplate the complex ecosystems that are responsible for the life giving air you breathe. Can you image the earth without air to breath?
I like to breathe fresh mountain air as often as possible, so I headed to Crater Lake National Park for a ski tour in the high alpine of the Cascade Mountains. We recently received some much-needed fresh snow in our mountains, and as a skier, I have a hard time saying no to fresh snow.
I arrived at Crater Lake National Park, parked my rig, and as I stepped out I was greeted by the wonderful smell of fresh snow and moist mountain air. I loaded my pack, got my skis on, and then headed for the ski trail. As I slowly skied up the snow covered Rim Road at Crater Lake, I started to think about what makes the air possible for me to breathe. Skiing in the backcountry with a moderately heavy pack can be a good physical workout, so this was a great context for focusing on the breath while being in the forest, which is partly responsible for the breathable air.
As I looked up to the sky and watched the clouds blow by, I thought of the ocean where the clouds just came from. I thought about the snow falling from the clouds as being water from the ocean not too long ago. I visualized being in the hydrological cycle and what it does for the air I was breathing. I thought about how interconnected the ocean is with the rivers, mountains, and forests of the Pacific Northwest. Not too many folks realize that up to 40% of the nitrogen that feeds the riparian zones of the forests historically has come from marine life (e.g., salmon), which swims up the rivers from the ocean. Nature is wholeness, and everything is connected within it. My breath is made possible by nature’s wholeness.
With every deep breath I took, I contemplated how complex the ecosystem truly is that allows me to breathe clean fresh air. I actually started to feel like I was entering an altered state of consciousness, and it was a little overwhelming. The boundaries of my sense of self became fuzzy and I felt a deep connection with the trees, the entire forest, the clouds, and the falling snow. When I’m out in the wild adventuring, solo, I often have similar experiences, but this was more profound than usual. I think it was partly due to my utilization of such focused attention on my breath and its source.
So, now it was time to hold my breath for as long as I could, which wasn’t very long due to the high elevation and my body needing lots of oxygen to compensate for being active in the high mountainous terrain. Being a practitioner of hatha yoga, I am no stranger to consciously working with the breath. But this was a very different experience. I have never tried to hold my breath when being active at higher elevations. My body did not like it at all! I held the breath at the end of the inhale, and I held the breath at the end of the exhale, and they both caused strong distress within my body. My throat actually started to spasm, as a form of feedback for me to stop behaving in such a self-destructive manner. I could almost here my body shouting, “Hey! Can’t you see I need some air down here? Stop it! Take a breath for Pete’s sake.” The feeling of starving my body for air was heavy with panic and struggle. Even being in control of the holding did not necessarily make the feelings less threatening. My body definitely felt threatened by this particular aspect of this rewilding activity.
What does it feel like to have air flowing through you? When I bring my attention to my breath, I feel the spirit. When I focus on the air flowing into my body, I feel energized with life.
My education and experience with hatha yoga has given me the perspective on the breath being the spirit. In many languages, spirit and breath are synonymous, and it does not take long to understand why, when one regularly practices mindful breath-work.
The quality of one’s breathing, meaning, the depth, smoothness, and rhythm, all reveal a lot about one’s emotional state, and one’s beingness. The practice of mindfully breathing has changed my life for the better!
Do you ever observe the quality of your breathing? How is your breathing? Is it smooth, slow, and deep? Or, is it jagged, quick, and shallow? The quality of our breathing is valuable feedback about how we are living.
Can you image earth without air to breath? No, I cannot, because it is our precious little atmosphere that makes earth the livable planet. However, while I was skiing through a burnt area of the forest, I visualized all the forests looking like this and imaged there being no clean air to breath. This imagery was disturbing and dark, and I did not stay with it for very long.
I liked this rewilding activity more than I thought I was going to. I think the most profound experience for me was the aspect of integrating mindful breathing while being in the natural environment, along with the recognition of the ecosystems that make our clean air. This type of experience is not one that can be totally intellectualized and understood through words or writing, it must be lived. I highly recommend it!
February 8th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to use a macro focus to observe the night sky with its heavenly bodies. The goal of this particular activity is to expand one’s perspective in order to see the big picture of nature. I love the big picture of nature with its interconnected systems of life!
I actually spent some time observing the sky during the setting sun as well as later in the evening after dark. Before the sun set, I got to observe some beautiful clouds blowing through the sky and reflecting the golden rays of light from our life giving sun. I could actually see the clouds forming and dissipating at a rather quick pace. There were some large cumulonimbus clouds that were building right in front of my eyes. There were also some cumulus and stratocumulus clouds being blown by the winds. They were all reflecting different colors of light. It was a big beautiful sky filled with blue, grey, white, yellow, pink, amber, and gold.
Well after the sun had set, I ventured out into the barnyard and laid down on a sleeping pad in order to get the full view of the night’s sky. The sky was not completely clear as I had hoped, but it was clear enough to see Jupiter and Orion’s Belt. I found myself focusing in on Jupiter’s bright reflection and visualized being that far away from Earth and looking back at Earth’s reflecting light. I used this visualization to change my perspective on the scale of things I experience at the everyday level.
When I acknowledge the Earth being nearly 25,000 miles in circumference, it seems like a big place, but when I visualize the vastness of our universe and Earth’s place within it, our planet seems quite small. It would appear we are quite fortunate to have such a beautiful little home with its relatively warm climate within such a vast cold universe. I am grateful for this place we call Earth.
A fundamental aspect of this particular rewilding activity is taking on the more-than-human perspective, and doing so at many different levels. As I lay there under the dark winter sky, I visualized my mind being as big as the Earth; I visualized being the Earth, and looking back at it from the distance of the moon. I saw my body with its blue oceans and green, brown, and white landforms. I saw the clouds swirling around as if they were holding me tight and keeping me warm. I saw my place within our solar system as the third one from the sun. I was grateful to be in such a lucky place, the one place that makes my life-supporting atmosphere possible. I was grateful to be this place called Earth.
I brought my sense of self back to my body laying on the Earth, and felt how small I am compared to this planet, this solar system, and this universe. I felt lucky to be here, to be here now, to be a part of this vast nature, and I reminded myself never to feel separate from all of it, never to feel so small that I cannot be an active part in nature’s order.
I think the Western individualistic sense of self is fundamentally at odds with the natural order of the universe. Our egocentric sociocultural reality fools us into believing we are separate from one another, and separate from all of nature. It is our own beliefs that have separated us from nature. Nature is suffering from our self-imposed separation. We are suffering from our unnatural and unhelpful beliefs.
Overall, I think this rewilding activity is a worthwhile practice for expanding one’s perspective past the fundamentally limiting human-centered view of nature. It is vital to remember our sense of self is a metaphor, which can be altered to include much more than just our human existence. Nature is counting on us to see things from its perspective. The Earth longs for us to merge our psyche with its soul.
February 9th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to take on the more-than-human perspective and embrace one’s inner animal. I think this particular activity gets at the heart of why we need to rewild; through modernity, humans have become increasingly egocentric, and some of our Western cultural beliefs and attitudes towards nature and the animal kingdom are less than respectful, to say the least.
I live in the beautiful State of Oregon, which will turn 156 years old this coming Saturday. From a deep time perspective, the modern State of Oregon is hardly an infant. Nevertheless, a lot has changed in this area in this very short time period! The landscape and the native populations (both human and more-than-human) have been significantly altered, and this alteration is the direct result of an unhealthy person-nature relationship. Our Western belief in manifest destiny and cultural superiority are both responsible for the destructive history to Oregon’s landscape and native populations.
With this historical context noted, taking on a more-than-human perspective through embracing my inner animal sounded like a worthwhile venture in my desire to further rewild my life.
Initially, I was drawn to choose the wolf, partly because I love dogs, but also because Southwest Oregon has a newly forming wolf pack, which is called the Rogue Pack. Wolves symbolize Oregon’s needed rewilding. However, I decided to go with the cougar (puma concolor). I chose the cougar because I am drawn to their strength, grace, and solitary nature, and I’m actually the same size as the average male cougar, which is roughly 150 pounds. How cougars are perceived, treated, and talked about as the murders of the forests, also represent the unhealthy person-nature relationship of many folks in modern Southwest Oregon. Unfortunately, cougars are still killed for sport here in Oregon.
How does one go about embracing their inner animal? Well, for starters, one should go to the natural habitat of the chosen inner animal. This particular aspect was easy for me because I live very close to cougar country, and the local town’s Forest Park (where I like to trail run) has had relatively recent cougar sightings. With my desire to go deeply into this rewilding process, I also chose to go during the time of day when cougars are know to be active. I wanted this experience to be as real as possible.
I arrived at the City of Jacksonville’s Forest Park at about 4:00 PM, which is roughly an hour and a half before sunset. I parked my rig, got out and headed into the woods on the trail.
How does a cougar move? In my limited experience of seeing a cougar in the wild (I’ve only seen one for a very brief moment as it bounded across the Forest Service road I was driving on) it would appear they move gracefully and very purposefully. So that was my goal, to move smoothly and as quite as I could whether I was walking or running. Whenever I focused my attention on moving like a cougar, I felt much more in my body and less caught-up in my head. This is probably due to focusing on moving mindfully as opposed to habitually, but nevertheless, I found it to be an interesting observation.
Cougars eat meat, and lots of it! In the past, I’ve hunted black-tail deer, and harvested a couple of beautiful big bucks. I know what deer smell like, and while I was running on the trial embracing my inner cougar, I would often get a whiff of the strong musky smell of deer. I often smell deer when I trail run in this area, but this time was different, because I immediately reflected back on the times I killed the deer. Taking on this perspective of the cougar had reawakened the hunter within me. I was scanning the landscape much more than I usually do, and using a softer focus, which allowed me to see more of the landscape at one time.
As the sun set over the ridge-top of the canyon I was in, and the forest began to get dark, I wished I had the night vision of a cat, but I don’t, so I started to listen more intently to my surroundings. Taking on this more-than-human perspective naturally brought me more in tune with my senses and instincts, and once again, out of my overly analytical human mind.
How does it feel being something other than human? There was definitely an awkwardness to this particular rewilding activity; we have been socialized to not act like animals, and especially if we are adults! However, there was a calming and grounding aspect of this being something other than human. I definitely plan on dong this activity again, and with other types of animals as my model for being.
From this more-than-human perspective (cougar), what do you think and feel about the human animals on earth? In short, very confused and disappointed. I could image a cougar having thoughts and asking questions like, “How in your right mind could you kill such a beautiful animal as me, for sport, for the ‘fun’ of it? Are you insane?”
This was definitely an interesting rewilding experience. Taking on the more-than-human perspective, through embracing one’s inner animal, reveals just how disconnected we have become from our instinctual wisdom of how to be in the natural environment, how to be a part of the earth. We are too caught up in our heads for our own good and for the good of all the other life here on earth. We modern humans pride ourselves in our intellectual capacities and our accumulation of knowledge, and ironically, it is this very “knowledge” and the amoral use of technological advances (e.g., the petrochemical revolution and the atomic age), which are at the heart of our need to rewild our lives and our landscapes. We are suffering from our lack of animal-wisdom.
I’m not so sure we humans are the rational animals.
February 10th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was fire making. The intentions of this particular activity areto connect to one’s ancestors and contemplate how instrumental fire has been within the evolutionary process of human beings. It is also very revealing to reflect upon how we collectively relate to fire in these modern times. Fire is a core element of nature, and how we relate to fire speaks volumes about our environmental perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs. Fire can shed a bright light upon our person-nature relationship.
So, after dinner, I built a fire in an aboveground portable fire-pit, which we have in our yard. The fire didn’t take right off, and I had to breath “life” into its flames. This ancient technique of fire stoking is a powerful metaphor for our historic relationship with fire. Building a fire takes contextual understandings and patience. It would appear these two qualities are something our modern “civilized” world could use a lot more of.
It was a beautiful night for a fire and my folks even came out for a while to enjoy the warmth and hypnotizing dancing flames and glowing embers. We talked a little, but mostly just enjoyed the simple pleasure of the fire. Sitting around a fire gives us the permission to just be with one another, nothing really needs to be said. I find this particular aspect of fire to be extremely refreshing, because talking a lot about nothing has become commonplace within our superficial culture, which is addicted to dramatic entertainment.
After my folks turned in for the night, I sat with and tended the fire for a couple more hours, and I actually could have sat with it all night. It was difficult to leave the fire’s comforting glow and warmth. The warmth and flickering light of a fire can touch one so deeply; a fire can warm the soul. A fire can help one to re-member one’s ancestors and their more simple way of living a meaningful life.
Fire is a primordial aspect of our existence here on earth. However, many of us do not have a healthy relationship with fire. We have engineered fire out of our daily lives. Not only do many of us lack a day-to-day relationship with fire, culturally, we have stigmatized fire as being a negative force of nature and one that should be feared and suppressed.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are only now acknowledging how damaging the institutionalized suppression of fire within our forests truly is to the overall health of the forest ecosystem. Many of our forests are viewed as “agricultural crops” and not wild places, and this perspective is made clear by the fact that the U.S. Forest Service is ran under the U.S. Department of Agricultural. The good news is there are pilot projects here in Southern Oregon for using fire to proactively manage the forestland.
However, this is not a new concept of land management or person-nature interaction. Prior to the 1850’s, the Native peoples of Southwestern Oregon used fire, proactively, for thousands of years to maintain a healthy landscape and ecosystem. Fire was a vital part of their lives. They understood fire was a powerful force of nature that should be mindfully used and not feared and suppressed.
Fire is a necessary part of wild nature. Fire is a form of creative-destruction within the natural world, and it is the projection of our own fear that gives it its negative value. It would appear this fear of fire and the compulsion to suppress it comes from the worldview that sees humans as the controller of nature, and the belief we are able to improve upon its ancient systems, upon its innate intelligence. We suppress fire in nature, because we think we know better than nature.
When will we learn that we do not know better than nature? Have we not suffered enough to be able to acknowledge our ignorantly informed arrogance?
I especially enjoyed this particular rewilding activity. I am no stranger to sitting around a fire and contemplating its simple beauty, but this experience was different. I think the difference I feel is in part due to the fact I’m ten-days into this highly focused rewilding process, and it is at the top of my mind, which affects how I’m experiencing everything.
The simple act of sitting around a fire can create a safe container for us to let go of our daily modern concerns. Many of the things we get caught up in and experience distress over seem to lose their importance when reflecting upon the glow of a fire. There is a powerful ease one can tap into through the natural meditative qualities of sitting around a fire.
Rewilding ourselves, and our landscapes, requires reappraising our relationship to core natural elements like fire.
February 11th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to acknowledge one’s dependence upon the sun. This was a very straightforward activity of allowing the sun to touch one’s skin and to feel its warmth. Another goal of this exercise was to observe how nature responds to the sun. The earthly experience would be much different without the life-giving warmth of our sun. Its safe to say we all wouldn’t be here if it were not for the sun.
I chose to do this rewilding activity while I was on an afternoon backcountry ski photo-adventure at Crater Lake National Park. I cannot think of a better place to appreciate the warming qualities of the sun than up high in the frozen Cascade Mountains of Oregon.
The weather forecast was for sunny skies with a high temperature in the mid-forties (Fahrenheit). Well, there is a good reason weather predictions are called forecasts and not called “the weather.” It turned out to be primarily overcast skies, very little wind, and temperatures in the mid-thirties, which resulted in a more subtle appreciation for the suns influence.
Recently, we experienced a productive winter storm that brought some much-needed precipitation to our region. The high mountains of Southwest Oregon received nearly two feet of fresh snow. This storm was relatively warm and wet, which can result in some amazing ice formations in the forested high-country. The trees become encased in an icy winter costume.
As I skied away from the Park Headquarter, I immediately noticed the melting snow and ice dripping from the tall fir trees. The sun’s radiation was helping the hydrological cycle do its circular thing; the snowpack was responding to the sun with its melt-freeze cycle, and sending the water back downhill towards the Pacific Ocean. I could not help but recognize how vital the sun is to our hydrological cycle and the fresh water it provides for all life here on earth. The sun was making the water I drink.
As I climbed higher into the snowy mountains, and towards the rim of Crater Lake, I could hear the faint sound of falling ice from the encrusted trees. The sun was freeing the trees from their icy bondage, which allowed the trees to soak up the needed light they require to provide oxygen to the atmosphere. The sun was making the air I breathe.
As I continued to climb upwards to the first 8,000-foot peak I had planned to summit, I was actually very grateful the sun was not out in full force. I was on a south slope, and when the sun is completely out on a bluebird day, the combined radiation (from the sky and reflecting off the snow) can be quite overwhelming. The sun provides life to us, but it also destroys plenty. Being someone who has sun damaged skin, I know this aspect of the sun all to well. The sun can be quite damaging to our bodies and our materials.
As I reached the first summit, I dropped my pack and ski gear in a tree-well so that it wouldn’t take off down the mountainside, without me. I captured some images of the dramatic wild landscape, and then in the shade of the tree I was using as my resting place, I ate some food and drank some water. I started to get a slight chill so I stepped out into the direct sunlight, which had made a guest appearance out from behind the cloud-cover. Instantly, I felt the sun’s energy penetrating though my waterproof ski suit and start to warm my body. A smile of gratitude appeared on my face. The sun had taken away my chill and the feeling of vulnerability to the cold.
As I enjoyed the innate beauty and wonder of this magnificent landscape, I could not help but notice the trees appeared to be growing towards the south, towards the light of the sun. They all had a slight southern attitude to their posture. It was if they were all paying close attention to, and giving their respect for, their source, the sun.
It is easy for me to see why so many cultures have worshiped the sun. It is the source of all life, and it is in plain sight. One does not have to have faith in its power, because one can just go outside and feel and witness its life-giving force.
This was a powerfully simple rewilding activity, but then again, all rewilding could actually be quite simple, if more of us viewed it as a vital practice of being human with this earth.
I’m eleven-days into the specific rewilding structured practice (I’ve actually been on a self-guided form of “rewilding” for a long time now), and one realization that has come to me is this rewilding thing, whether it is of one’s life, one’s spirit, or the landscape, really is another name for being fully human with this earth and all its life. Rewilding is a form of self-realization. Rewilding is a form of awakening to our full beingness. Rewilding is living within Natural Law.
February 12th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to connect with the dirt of the earth. We have an ancient relationship with soil; through the food we eat, our bodies are made of dirt, and in the end, our bodies will return to the dirt. This activity encourages one to get up close and personal with the dirt. What is it like to touch it, to smell it, and to try and see your self in the dirt? Acknowledging one’s relationship with dirt, and one’s dependence upon its wellbeing, is a powerful rewilding practice.
I was raised on a small farm in Southwest Oregon. We didn’t make our living as farmers, but my family comes from a long line of farmers who did. With this noted, I am not unfamiliar with digging in the dirt or growing food and crops.
I decided to start this rewilding activity with tending to our compost. As someone who has amended soil with different types of organic fertilizers and animal products (e.g., blood meal, fish meal, bat guano, etc.) and reaped the bounty of the harvest, I can appreciate the strangely attractive smell of decaying biological material. There is something deep down within us, which recognizes this stinky stuff as good!
I hadn’t turned the compost in quite sometime so it definitely needed some love, but within a short time of receiving my attention, it looked and smelt a lot better.
After enjoying my time tending the decaying food matter, I headed for a small potted redwood tree that needed to be planted. I thought planting a tree would be a great way to get into the dirt and reflect upon my relationship to the brown stuff.
At the moment, our soil is nice and loose from some recent rain, so the digging was easy. We are very fortunate with the quality of soil here at my folk’s little piece of farmland, which makes working with it a true pleasure. Some soils like sticky clay are not so fun to dig into, at least not if you’re a farmer.
One observation I made while doing this activity was my propensity to wear my leather gloves to protect my hands and keep them clean. It’s been a while since I did a lot of gardening, and I’m literally out of touch with the soil. Collectively, we have been conditioned to view dirt as being bad and something to avoid. Why is this the case? Why are we so averse to getting dirty? What does this say about our collective person-nature relationship?
Think of the negative connotation the word “dirt” carries with it. We have stigmatized one of the core elements of our very being. Image if we constructed a similar twisted meaning for water or air. Maybe we are already subconsciously heading in this direction with our increasingly normalized person-nature separation. Will there come a day when the masses view all of nature as “dirty”?
While I was planting this little redwood tree, I used my bare hands to fill in the hole around the tree’s root-ball. I took the time to smell the decomposed granite soil, and acknowledge its unique aroma. It smelt good!
Soils are like people, they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Nature’s wellbeing is dependent upon diversity, and humanity is no different.
We often talk about experiences as being “grounding,” and I cannot think of anything more grounding than putting one’s hands into the earth. This metaphor becomes literal when we dig in the dirt. We are connecting to our primordial selves when we dig into the earth. Digging in the dirt allows one to feel one’s birth and death at the same time. We come from the dirt, we are sustained from the dirt, and we shall return to the dirt.
This particular rewilding activity was significant for me. It reminded me of the vital need to tend the compost on a regular basis so I do not forget the sweet smell of decaying matter, and it is this relationship to the strangely stinky stuff that allows me to grow things, both literally and metaphorically.
February 13th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to forage for wild food in one’s area. This topic is of particular interest to me. I do not know a lot about wild edible plants (I have harvested and eaten six wild foods in my area – not including hunting/fishing), but I really want to learn more. Through my interests in Native American Studies, I have become aware of some of the local wild foods (e.g., acorns), which I have not tried as of yet.
I chose to forage in my immediate area and sought out the miner’s lettuce (Claytonia percolate) that I knew grows locally. I wandered out into the garden area, which is filled with several types of volunteer vegetation, and found plenty of miner’s lettuce to make a dinner salad.
As I was harvesting these long-stemmed succulent little leafed plants, I decided to eat some right then and there. These little green plants were very tasty! Not a real strong flavor, but oh so crisp and slightly sweet. I could taste their aliveness! There is nothing quite like eating freshly picked wild food. Whether it is fresh berries or some type of greens, eating raw wild food in the field is an energetic experience that connects one to the land at a very intimate level.
While I was foraging, I felt very fortunate to be able to walk a short distance and pick food from the earth that I could eat. I was grateful towards these small abundant plants that were available for my taking. However, I did not clear-cut any one area of the miner’s lettuce. I was mindful of how I was impacting their ability to rejuvenate for the following year.
I brought my bounty into the kitchen, washed the greens, and made a small dinner salad with a portion of what I harvested. I have eaten miner’s lettuce before, just a few leaves here and there, but this was the first time I actually harvested it in mass and prepared it for a meal. I actually look forward to eating what remains, tomorrow night!
Reflecting on this rewilding activity my mind goes to all the wild foods in our area that go to waste or at least do not get utilized as they could. For example, the acorn was a staple of the indigenous peoples of Southwest Oregon. Now, the acorns lay in piles under the oak trees. Often, while I’m walking my dog down the county road, I see these acorns, and I think of the Natives that once gathered them and processed them into a starchy floor to bake and cook with. I realize many animals eat the acorns, but there is a level of sad irony in the fact there are homeless people in our area that go hungry while food lays in waste along our roads. These acorns are a powerful symbol of how the person-nature relationship has devolved in our area. The “locals” that now live in Southwest Oregon, collectively, do not have the ecoliteracy that was here for thousands of years. Our modern lives have blinded us to the food that surrounds us.
Eating can definitely be a social event, and many of us gather around food to actually connect with each other. In this particular food-based social setting, the eating becomes somewhat secondary. In my experience of eating raw wild foods, there is a similar secondary element to this type of consumption. The food that is being foraged and eaten becomes a medium for the relationship with the landscape, which is nature. When one forages wild foods and eats them, one is partaking in a social interaction with nature.
For those of us that are spiritual, and view our bodies as sacred, this social interaction with nature takes on a spiritual level to its existence. When we forage and eat food from the earth, we are in communion with nature, which is creation; when we eat this food, we are receiving gifts from the creator.
At first, this rewilding activity seemed quite simple to me, but it is having a profound affect upon me. Now, more than ever, I want to learn more about eating wild foods. I see this particular rewilding activity as embodying some of the deepest aspects of the person-nature relationship. Many of us have become divorced from our food sources, and this fatal separation has happened so far back, generationally speaking, we cannot even see the disconnect. Collectively, we have forgotten how to feed ourselves from this earth, naturally.
February 14, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to challenge one’s body with a moderate hike or climb. The intentions of this particular activity were to get one’s blood pumping, see what the body is capable of, and if possible, share the experience with someone else. This rewilding activity was all about experiencing one’s “wild body.”
In these modern times, many of us live sedentary lives, but we were never meant to live in this way. Our bodies are meant to be moving. The human body is an amazing specimen, a work of biological art, and has emerged from millions of years of evolution through being active in nature. Our overall wellbeing requires our bodies to be moving within the natural environment.
A friend and myself were already planning a day-trip to Mt. Shasta to go backcountry skiing and snowboarding, so this activity fit nicely within our plans. Climbing and skiing/snowboarding on Mt. Shasta is a great place to challenge one’s physiological and psychological state of being. The mountain will tell one where one is at, at many levels of being. Over the years, this big mountain has broken more than one body and mind. Mt. Shasta is a great environment to experience one’s wild body.
Mt. Shasta is a 14,162 ft. (4,317 m) volcanic peak in the Cascade Mountain Range. It rises nearly 10,000 vertical feet from the surrounding valley floor. Mt. Shasta is a huge mountain, and a spectacular sight that can be seen from many miles away.
My friend and myself agreed we did not need to attempt to summit the tall peak, at least not today. However, we did agree to go as far as we felt comfortable with the time we had on the mountain. We acknowledged the summit is not the only place to be on the mountain.
We started out climbing at 8:30 in the morning at an elevation of roughly 6,900 feet (2,103 m) on the southern aspect of Mt. Shasta. It was a sunny and warm day with the forecasted high temperature to be in the 50’s Fahrenheit (10 – 15 C). The combination of these unseasonably high temperatures and the reflected radiation from the sun off of the snow made the shade a very welcoming place to be. It takes more energy than one may think just to exist within this type of environment.
Our first real “wild body” experience came when we were climbing above tree-line on a relatively steep snowy slope, which turned to ice at a very inopportune moment for our chosen path. During our ascent of the mountain, we were using climbing skins on our skis and split board, and these synthetic climbing skins don’t work so well on steep icy slopes. We were at about 9,200 feet and had been climbing for a couple of hours. We were feeling the work we had done thus far and the thinning air at higher elevation. This was not a great time to make a radical alteration in how we were operating, but we had to make a change, and do so quickly. Dismounting from skis or a split board on steep icy snow can be a significant challenge, and one with real consequences if things go wrong.
As I was struggling to get my skis off and not slide down the mountain, I realized how tired my legs really were and how thin the air felt to be. I was definitely feeling challenged! My motivation to succeed in this moment came from two sources: First, the most obvious locus of motivation came from my mind. Second, a more subtle, and less acknowledged place of motivation, came from my body. My mind was evaluating the situation and calculating what needed to happen, and my body wanted to do whatever it took to be able to continue on with this being alive.
Well, we both managed to make the awkward but necessary transition to climbing with our boots on the snow, and then climbed to a little rock outcropping at 9,300 feet at the top of the steep slope we were on, which ended up being our “peak” for the day. At this peak, we rejuvenated our bodies with food and drink, and relaxed our minds with the beautiful mountain scenery and our friendship.
After a while of resting and drinking in the awe-inspiring landscape, we geared up for our first decent of the day. It was time to make some well-earned turns down the spring-like corn snow. It was time for wild body play!
After our joyful run down the mountainside, we decided to make another climb up to about 9,000 feet for one last ride down the mountain. During this climb up we had another opportunity to push ourselves to meet the challenge of climbing steep terrain while being physically taxed. Mt. Shasta was giving us an opportunity to experience our wild bodies.
I enjoyed this rewilding activity more than I thought I would. Not because I do not value its intentions, but rather, because I have been very active with my body my entire life, and especially in nature. I assumed this activity would be too rudimentary for me to gain anything significant out of its process. Well, I was wrong! This is a great rewilding activity, and one I highly recommend, even to those who see themselves as being very active in nature or elsewhere.
Modernity has nurtured a fundamental disconnect of the person-nature relationship. One core aspect of this disconnect is the separation of our active wild-bodies from our daily lives. Our convenient and highly sedentary lifestyle has domesticated our bodies in a way that many of us are not aware of. The normalization of this bodily domestication is evident within the perspective that sees highly active nature-based behavior as abnormal or something special. Our innate need to physically interact with nature has become a form of recreation and seen as a luxury, as opposed to a necessity and a birthright of being human. Collectively, we have drifted so far away from our natural state of being in our bodies with relationship to nature that we cannot recognize or connect to the wildness within our bodies. This wild-body domestication has resulted in a taming of the human psyche, which further nurtures the person-nature disconnect and has lead to a long list of psychological “disorders.” However, many of these disorders are actually normal responses to a dis-eased way of being, which has been normalized through modernity’s dominant cultural institutions.
Our wild bodies long to interact with nature. Our overall wellbeing is dis-eased without the regular experience of our wild bodies. Our wild body is our natural state of being, which is collectively being neglected. We must be attuned to our wild body, because our collective future depends upon it.
February 15th, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to acknowledge the subtle energies within nature, and especially within one’s own body while interacting with nature. This particular activity was framed within the context of altered states of consciousness from psychoactive substances (e.g., Peyote, Psilocybin Mushrooms, etc.). However, since much of Western culture does not value these medicinally powerful substances of nature, which have been positively utilized for eons, the use of meditation is suggested. The intentions of this rewilding activity are to broaden one’s sense of perception, both internally and externally, in order to acknowledge that vast field of energy that is nature.
I chose to go sit on a park bench high in the foothills within the Forest Park of the City of Jacksonville. This particular bench requires a moderate trail hike to access it, as well as providing a spectacular view of the surrounding forest and valley below. It seemed like a perfect place to go meditate in nature, and not have to worry about being disturbed.
The route I take to access this particular spot enables me to experience a thirty-minute trail run, which can help to get the mind and body prepared to sit in a meditative state. Many of us have a difficult time getting into a meditative practice because we do not exercise pent-up energy, which can be a significant barrier to seated meditation. Another cultural barrier to a meditative practice is our addiction to “doing” and being productive. Ironically, many Westerners view meditation as a waste of time. If they only knew how backwards this belief truly is!
I am a regular meditator, so this activity was not unfamiliar to me. I always find it interesting to observe the mind when I sit to meditate. What are the thoughts that automatically arise? Do I accept where I am at, or do I get stuck in judgment of how I am doing it? I have learned to value being mindful when approaching meditation. Meaning, to simply observe what the mind is doing and to do so without judgment. However, this can be a lot easier in theory than in practice, but it is a critical aspect of a healthy and sustainable meditation practice.
So, I sat down on this park bench out in the middle of a forest, and proceeded to get situated to sit for thirty minutes of meditation. After taking some photos, I settled into a peaceful state of being with the forest. I consciously alternated my attention from internal processes and then to external stimulus (e.g., the forest), and I did so with the intention of observing whatever came up for me.
After a few minutes, I could sense my body and mind relaxing into the place. I started to observe my busy mind slowing down to meet the slow pace of the wintertime forest. This would have been a very different experience a couple months from now when the forest is much more active. As soon as I let go of what I thought would happen (e.g., the priming and expectancy from the rewilding activity’s suggestions/instructions) I began to subtly sense the energy of the forest that surrounded me. My sense of self began to diminish, and I could feel a connection to the forested hills, the valley below, and the mountains far off to the south. I felt my part in the field of energy that is nature.
I see this particular rewilding activity as being an effective way for one to strengthen one’s person-nature relationship as well as receive the positive benefits of a meditative practice. I also see this particular style of meditation as helping one to expand one’s sense of self to include the natural environment – to strengthen the ecological sense of self. I firmly believe that if more people undertook a meditative practice, the world would be a much better off place. I also believe that if more of us would regularly meditate in nature, our collective person-nature relationship would undergo a massive healing, which is desperately needed.
February 16, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to acknowledge and witness nature’s cycles, and to do this by observing the sunrise and sunset, which is one of the most fundamental cycles of our daily lives. However, very few of us live our life in accordance with the cycle of the sun’s transitioning light.
We live in a time when our technological advances have given us the ability to separate ourselves from our natural circadian rhythms. Through the use of technology, we have created more time in our day in order to be more productive. For example, I started to write this piece at roughly 9:30 PM (Pacific Time), and the sun set nearly four hours ago. It will probably be much later when I’m finished.
What are the consequences of breaking this Natural Law of the sun’s light cycle? Are we stressing more than our bodies and minds by overriding our natural sleep cycle?
I work as an outdoor adventure leader, which interconnects my life with the seasons and many of nature’s cycles (e.g., river guiding in the spring/summer/fall). During the river-running season, my daily life is much more in line with the sun’s light cycle. I usually witness the sunrise and sunset everyday during the river season. However, during the wintertime I am not so connected to the natural limitations of light, but I wish I were.
I make it a point to witness every sunset I can, and believe it is a sacred act that should not be viewed as ordinary. During the wintertime, the days I am awake before sunrise are days I truly cherish. The predawn time is so precious to me, and I feel much more alive, grounded, and connected to nature when I am awake for this daily cycle.
Becoming a habitual sunrise and sunset watcher is a goal of mine, and I know the quality of my life will be better when I reach this goal.
So, I decided to incorporate this particular rewilding activity into one of my regular visits to Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is eighty miles from where I live, and I usually make a very full day of my time up there, which requires me to start off in the darkness of the early morning. Crater Lake is also one of my favorite places to watch the sunset, because it is usually a dramatic show of light and color, which lasts for about an hour and a half.
As I was driving across the valley, I watched with amazement as the sun lit up the sky. I reflected upon how busy the streets and roads already were and wondered how many of my fellow humans were appreciating this precious time of day. Did witnessing this natural cycle energize them, or were they numb to its brilliance?
When I witness the rising sun I feel grateful. I feel grateful for the moment and for the opportunity to live this life. The sunrise is a simple act, but one that can have profound affects upon one’s psyche. Witnessing the sunrise and sunset can be a much-needed change in perspective in our modern lives, which often feel empty of meaning and deeper purpose.
What is it about witnessing the sun’s transitions that is so special, so magical? Does the temporal nature of the sun’s light upon our place on earth symbolize the greater fleeting nature of our existence? Does the cyclical nature of the sun’s light symbolize nature’s birth, death, and rebirth, which we sense at a deep subconscious level?
For me, witnessing the sunrise and sunset is a spiritual act, which is a vital part of my larger practice of this being human. The earth is my church and the sun is the ritual flame of this ceremony called life.
I believe the regular witnessing of the rising and setting sun nurtures one’s person-nature relationship at a fundamental level. When we witness this fundamental life-giving cycle of nature, we are engaging nature at a level that our rational minds cannot understand; when we take the time to witness the rising and setting sun we are giving our soul to nature, and nature reciprocates.
This rewilding activity is a powerful way to reconnect with nature’s cycles. This simple activity challenges our modern lives in deep ways that must be felt to understand. I truly believe that if more of us changed our schedules in order to regularly witness the rising and setting sun our collective perspective on modernity would also change. I believe that if more of us did this simple act we would ask ourselves why we have turned away from nature.
February 17, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was honing one’s sense of smell. The goal of this particular activity was to go out into a natural landscape and smell as many different scents as one can. The idea is not to try to catalog all the different aromas, but rather, to just experience all the subtle smells one often does not take the time to appreciate. Another interesting aspect of this activity was to image being an animal that depends upon their sense of smell for their primary means of environmental perception.
Have you ever noticed how much more you smell when you are out in a natural environment? Ever wonder why this is so? Well, one explanation is because when we are in the urban environment we actually experience a numbing of our senses. The unnatural characteristics of the urban environment cause some of our sense perceptions to diminish in a form of self-preservation. On the contrary, when we spend time in the natural environment, which is our historical home, our senses flourish!
I have a keen sense of smell so I really enjoyed this particular rewilding activity. I actually started out reflecting upon this activity while I was walking with my dog along the roadside, prior to going out into the natural landscape to do my own sniffing. She almost constantly smells the ground and anything at her level. I noticed how she takes several different sniffs at one particular point, as if she is really giving the smell her full attention and getting to know the uniqueness and depth of the particular scent.
So, I was off to the woods to start smelling anything and everything I could get my nostrils close to. I started off smelling the different trees. I put my nose right up to their bark and took several good longs sniffs. My dog would have been proud of me! I smelt the bark of cedar, fir, oak, maple, and madrone. I smelt live trees and dead trees. I also tried out their needles and leaves. My favorite is the Douglas fir! Oh, the firs trees smell so divine. I especially enjoy their scent even more knowing that their aroma bolsters our immune system. Yes, it really does!
After filling my sense of smell with the trees, I moved onto some moss and dirt. Compared to the tree bark, the moss and dirt were so fragrant, especially the dirt! I really love the smell of healthy soil, because it smells of rich life. The soil within a forest smells like a highly concentrated mixture of the entire forest, which makes perfect sense when one considers where the soil comes from.
As I was getting down on all fours to smell some of low lying scents, I thought of my dog and how intently she smells whatever she is focusing upon. I couldn’t match her smelling vigor, but I did try to emulate her technique. I did notice that when I took several whiffs of the scent I got a much more complex aroma than if I just took a quick sniff. It was if there was a multidimensional mapping of the particular scent going on when I took this approach to smelling. This particular aspect made me reflect upon all the different aromas in my daily life, which I may be taking for granted.
As I was walking along the creek, I noticed the air rushing down the drainage and carrying with it all different kinds of aromas. It was at this point I envisioned being an animal that depended upon their sense of smell to navigate through the landscape. If I were an animal that utilized sense of smell as my primary means of understanding my world, I think I would move much slower and take the time to really notice all the different scents.
Overall, I think this is a great rewilding activity, primarily because it gets one to slow down and really focus on interacting with the natural environment. One cannot rush through a landscape if one is focusing on one’s sense of smell. There is more and more research that shows how beneficial natural aromas are to one’s overall wellbeing (e.g., fir/pine increase the immune function), and this should not come as a surprise, because nature is our true home and our bodies know this fact better than our minds do.
February 18, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to connect with the old ones by finding the largest nearby rock to go be with. This activity encourages one to ask the rock how old it is, what it has witnessed over the eons, how it experiences the local weather, and about its deep origins within the Earth. It would appear this particular activity is rooted within the realms of taking on the more-than-human perspective as well as mental time travel.
I chose to go hike up to Pilot Rock, which is a Southern Oregon and Northern California landmark. Pilot Rock’s prominent place has guided travels as far back as time out of mind. It was given its modern name during the Applegate Trail migration of the 1850’s. However, the indigenous Takelma people called it Tan-ts’at-seniptha, which means, “stone standing up.”
Pilot Rock is a volcanic plug, which basically means it is the remnants of magma rising to the surface of the Earth, but stopped short and cooled into rock beneath the surface. It rises out of the forest roughly 570’ (174m) and the top sits at an elevation of 5,910’ (1,801m). The rock is made up of beautifully shaped columnar andesite, which is believed to be 25 million years old.
So, I made the short trail hike to the base of Pilot Rock, and then set my sights on the summit, which requires some basic bouldering skills to reach, but nothing too serious. The weather was sunny and relatively warm for February. The route up the rock is on the north side, and was primarily in the cool shade. When I reached the summit, the sun’s warmth was a welcome feeling. I sat down to enjoy the panoramic view and soak in the sun’s warmth.
I sat there on top of this big old rock, and tried to comprehend the age of this volcanic creation of Earth. At the time, I did not know the scientifically based age of 25 million years, but I was aware that it was very old. When I asked it how old it was, all I got was a deafening silence. This meaningful absence struck me as somewhat odd, because answers usually come to me when I inquire into Nature. However, now, I see the lack of an answer as actually being a form of meaningful communication. The rock is much older than any form of human explicit memory or consciousness. This rock is from an age that predates our highly linear and analytical mind, which tends to have a real problem with meaningful absences, silence, and abstract thinking in general.
It is quite obvious that Pilot Rock has seen many changes in its time. My impatient human mind has a difficult time when trying to envision just how much change this giant rock has witnessed. However, I can image this rock has been here to see many forms of life come and go over the eons.
Pilot Rock has seen the destruction of indigenous peoples and their time-proven ways of living. The rock has seen the construction of massive modern projects like Interstate 5, which runs through the mountain pass to the immediate west. Apparently, Interstate 5’s mark upon the landscape is the type that can be seen by astronauts while orbiting the planet. I’m sure Pilot Rock heard and felt the men and their machines digging, drilling, blasting, and moving the earth to create this modern feat of human engineering. Modern construction projects like major interstate highways are acts of violence against Nature, which destroy the natural harmony of a landscape. Pilot Rock must have grieved for the losses that came from the destruction of the Native way of life and the construction of Interstate 5.
The rock has also had an amazing view of a very long cycle of sunrises and sunsets. I am greatly humbled when I contemplate how much beautiful light has lit up the faces of Pilot Rock. Pilot Rock must be very grateful for its place and the spectacular view that constitutes its home.
As I sat in peace on top of Pilot Rock enjoying the unseasonably pleasant weather with the warmth from the sun as well the sun’s energy radiating out of the rock, I visualized the not so pleasant weather this big old rock has sat through. It is hard to image all the inclement weather that Pilot Rock has survived. The Southern Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains (Pilot Rock sits at the junction of these two mountain ranges) have a long history of strong winter weather and relentless summer heat. Driving rain, sleet and snow, thunder and lightning, high winds, hot summer heat, and the relentless sun, are all familiar conditions to this big old rock. The rock has persevered the extreme weather, but not without loosing some of its form; the elements and gravity are both taking their toll upon Pilot Rock’s robust profile. Pilot Rock is slowly crumbling into the forest below, but doing so with grace.
Pilot Rock’s origins run deep into the fiery depths of the Earth. The columnar andesite, which makes up this volcanic plug, looks a lot like tissue fiber (e.g., muscle fiber) of the Mother Earth. It is easy to envision the structure of this giant rock being a window into the flesh of the Earth.
I am a vocal proponent of taking on the more-than-human perspective, and therefore, I am biased towards this type of rewilding activity. With that noted, I see this type of rewilding as being fundamentally challenging to the Western mind, which views the cosmos through a dualistic lens of the animate versus the inanimate aspects of our existence on Earth. I see this sitting and being with a large rock formation as a powerful way of exercising the expansion of the sense of self towards the ideal of the ecological self, which does not view the individual as being separate from the whole of the Earth and the cosmos.
I think it would be very helpful if more of us tried taking on the perspective of a very large rock like Pilot Rock, with the intentions of gaining a deeper understanding of Nature and our collective person-nature relationship.
February 19, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to take inventory of one’s modern conveniences that are used on a regular basis (e.g., phone, computer, vehicle, Facebook, etc.), and choose to live without one of these for an entire day. One is encouraged to visualize what life would be like without these techno-gadgets of modernity. The intention of this particular rewilding activity is to reappraise one’s relationship to modernity’s gadgetry and consumer culture, and hopefully envision a life that is not so dependent upon the products, assumptions, and beliefs of our unsustainable way of living.
I see this particular rewilding activity as getting to the heart and uncomfortable emotional attachment many of us have to our current way of life. Many of us know how we are living is just not right, but cannot see another way of being in this world. Many of us say we want the world to change, but how much change do we really mean? What are we willing to give up? Why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?
I got my first cellular telephone back in the early 90’s. I have had a cell phone ever since then, except for a six-month period (in 2009) when I was simplifying my life and actually got rid of my phone. In short, it was amazing! My life did not end and I was actually much more at peace because of the practice of voluntary simplification. Now, one of my top goals in life is to be able to live without a phone and computer. In my eyes, true success is to be self-liberated from the golden chains of modernity.
Well, I had a four-day wilderness river trip planned, which presented a perfect opportunity for practicing living without some modern conveniences. There is no cell coverage in the wilderness, and thank the gods this is still true! There is no need to take the phone on the river trip.
So, there I was, in the wilderness, without my phone, and it was good!
When I turn-off the gadgetry, and tune-in to Nature, I feel a deep sense of release and liberation from a technologically sourced oppression, which has become so normalized it is not even recognized by most. Collectively, we have participated in a collusion of the lie that we “need” these gadgets to keep up with the world. And who exactly is this “world” anyways?
I can envision a reality without phones and computers. It is a reality filled with real communication and relationships, not virtual or digital ones. It is a reality where the accumulation of information is not confused with an education. It is a reality where one has to be more responsible for their actions, and cannot dial 911 when they have gotten themselves lost in the woods because of a lack of understanding and respect for Natural Law. It is a reality where there is social accountability for how one treats others, because there is no internet troll named “anonymous.” In this reality, social interactions actually happen face-to-face. I know, it sounds like a really strange place!
I think it’s pretty obvious I really appreciate this type of rewilding activity. I see great value in this particular activity, and believe it is through this type of work that real change will happen within the collective person-nature relationship. I personally have a love-hate relationship with much of our modern conveniences, and want to continue to simplify my way of being. Many of us have very difficult decisions to make with respect to how we are consuming, as well as producing, this materialistic culture of violence against Nature. There is no “world” out there. The world is within every one of us, and we make it so.
February 20, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to sleep outside, and ideally away from the light and noise pollution of the urban environment. This activity does not come with a lot of instructions, but to experience the significance of sleeping out under the open night sky, one really does not need further guidance. Sleeping out under the open sky is a human birth right. I believe the intention of this particular activity is to get one to reappraise one’s person-nature relationship at a very personal and intimate level. Can we be any more vulnerable than when we sleep?
How and where we sleep speaks volumes about us individually as well as collectively. What is the last thing you look at before you rest you mind, body, and spirit for the night? Do you consider sleeping a sacred act of being human? Or, do you view sleeping as something that just needs to be done in order for more work to get done?
Getting a good night sleep requires a fundamental level of trust in one’s surroundings. It is very difficult to truly relax if one is not fully in a state of trust. For most, to trust someone or something one must know this someone or something.
My experience as a river guide has given me an opportunity to observe how others interact with Nature. Over the years, I have noticed a collective resistance to sleep outside by many of the folks I lead. Are we afraid of Nature? If so, why do we not trust Nature?
My recent four-day fishing trip on the Wild Section of the Rogue River gave me an opportunity to sleep outside under the starry night sky for three consecutive nights. I slept on a cot out in the open fresh air of the Rogue River canyon. It’s winter here in Southern Oregon, and the temperatures can dip down below freezing even within the Rogue canyon. So, I was prepared to sleep out in the cold. I had several layers to keep me warm and dry, which gave me the sense of trust I needed to fall asleep under the winter sky. During this trip I got some of the best sleep I’ve had since last river season.
I struggle when I attempt to write about the subjective experience of sleeping under a mostly unadulterated starry sky, but I’ll try anyways. I can contently gaze up at the star filled sky for an eternity. The peace I feel when I lay down and look into the heavens is one that permeates the very core of my being. My sense of self is diminished to the point where my personal problems cease to exist. The overwhelming vastness of space engulfs me into my true self and reveals the illusion of the separate individual. When I sleep under the open sky, I sleep in unity with it all; sleeping under the open sky is a type of yoga, which means, “to unite.”
I live in a somewhat idyllic place to be outdoors and to practice rewilding. I realize this, and I’m very grateful for this reality and its opportunities. Last year I slept fifty to sixty nights out under the open sky. With that noted, I encourage others to sleep outside whenever it is possible. I understand that many geographic locations do not allow for sleeping out under the romantic starry sky, but maybe a more practical form of this rewilding activity would be to sleep in a tent or another form of a flexible structure (e.g., yurt).
I believe there is a healing that can happen when one sleeps outside under the open sky or even within a thin-walled flexible structure. Our collective person-nature relationship is not well, and needs all the help it can get, it needs healing. Modernity’s dominant cultural institutions have separated us from Nature, and we must acknowledge this divorce and find the courage to mend the relational gap. It is vital to accept our role within the maintenance of our sociocultural context; we all help to create our cultures. There are many factors that have lead to our damaged collective person-nature relationship, too many to go into here, but I do believe the closer we can sleep to Nature the more we allow the natural healing to take place. Our collective trust in Nature needs our attention. Nature’s wellbeing requires our trust.
February 21, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to make art out of Nature, in Nature, and leave it in place. Having the soul of an artist made this one seem quite natural to me. I love art, and believe Nature is the original artist.
I am lucky to have an artist for a mother. Growing up looking at art has taught me how to appreciate it, and my eye has been tuned to see the world in an artful way. I am grateful for this aspect of my being.
I am no stranger to creating art out of natural materials, doing so in Nature, and then leaving the piece in place. Most of my past creations have been in the form of rock cairns along the river. I find making these artfully stacked towers of river-rock to be a meditative and therapeutic experience. Rock cairns can be the embodiment of mindfulness, balance, and grace.
For me, the beauty of making art out of natural materials is in the listening to the way of the material. This is to say, natural materials have patterns within their structures, and these patterns can be complemented by other natural patterns. I strive to create “flow” within my natural art.
My recent four-day fishing trip on the Wild Section of the Rogue River gave me a perfect opportunity to create some art in Nature. I actually practiced this rewilding activity during all four days of the trip. I didn’t take photos of every creation, but that is probably more true to the art form; creating for the sake of creating, and then letting it go without attachments.
The river had recently experienced a flooding event, and there was tons of especially unique driftwood scattered all about. My favorite type of driftwood is the section of a fir or pine branch that is deep within the trunk of a tree. When these pieces get separated from the trunk, they get weathered into beautifully shaped wood, and often resemble a giant tooth or a human head. These uniquely shaped pieces of wood are already artistic in their form; simply acknowledging them is a form of art.
One of the creations I left along the river was a series of these uniquely shaped pieces of driftwood. The art emerged out of the simple combination of these naturally carved wooden sculptures, a virgin sandy beach, the high-angled winter sun, and the power of attention towards the moment.
During the four days on the river, I balanced a series of river rocks in an artistic manner, created a shell-like resemblance with some colorful river-rock, built fires that had intentionally placed pieces of wood to create an artistic flow to the flames, and witnessed Nature’s own immense gallery of art. Some of this art came from this rewilding activity, and some of it just came from me being wild in the wild.
I believe there is a direct correlation between being in a mind-space that allows one to create naturally based art, and being truly present with Nature. I see this relationship as being dialectical, or co-creating, and one that can nurture both sides of the relationship. Meaning, the more present one is with Nature, the more one is open to creating naturally based art as well as seeing Nature as art.
I love this particular rewilding activity! This activity is simple, and it is powerful. It has reminded me how important art is to my life as well to my person-nature relationship. I think a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of creating art, and are limited by the stereotypical label of “an artist,” whatever that means.
Nature needs all of us to practice rewilding at some level. I see this particular rewilding activity – creating art out of Nature, in Nature, and leave it in place – as something everybody could do that would positively affect their person-nature relationship as well as their overall wellbeing, which in turn, helps Nature to be well. Nature is the ultimate artist, and when we tune into this fact we realize our own inner artist, we more fully realize our human nature.
February 22, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to give back to Nature by cleaning up trash one finds while spending time in the out-of-doors. The intentions of this particular activity are to help nurture one’s connection to the natural environment through stewardship, and to help one to see how being a steward of Nature helps one to enjoy their interaction with Nature, but also helps others to do the same, in the present as well as in the far off future (e.g., several generations down the line). Caring for Nature is a shared responsibility, which transcends space and time.
Over the years of working on the river as a guide, I have naturally matured as a steward of the land and the water that flows though it. When I was younger, I would get angry when I saw garbage in or along the river, but now I see an opportunity to care for what I love. When I see trash out in Nature I see a need to be filled, in the present moment (e.g., cleaning up the trash) as well as in the future (e.g., environmental education).
Within the discipline of environmental psychology it is established that performing regular stewardship acts can help to mitigate the despair caused by the ecological crisis facing us all. Doing something is good medicine! I personally can attest to this research finding being valid in the real world. I’m not suggesting that picking up some trash is going to make everything better, but it really does help out at the subjective level. Giving back to Nature nurtures one’s overall wellbeing.
My recent four-day fishing trip on the Wild Section of the Rogue River gave me an opportunity to give back to Nature, both in the present moment and in the near future. The river had recently experienced a flooding event, and there were all sorts of debris cluttering the riverbanks. Frankly, it was a little overwhelming at times to see such an amazing landscape so defaced by trash. The steward in me wanted to stop fishing and start cleaning up the river!
So, I picked up little pieces here and there, and kept telling myself I would be back with a team that was exclusively focused on cleaning up the river. My response to the overwhelming amount of garbage along the river was to begin the organization process of a large-scale river cleanup, which is regularly performed by many people and organizations on our Wild & Scenic Rogue River.
When one witnesses trash in the natural environment, one has a choice: one can either get emotionally disturbed and complain about what others have done, or, one can see the garbage as the embodiment of ignorance, and do something about it. Complaining about a problem does not necessarily help solve the situation, but acting to help right the situation does help solve the problem.
One’s interpretation of the polluting of the natural environment plays a fundamental role in how one interacts with Nature.
The next time you see garbage in a beautiful place that you love dearly, can you find compassion for the one who put it there? Can you transform you anger back into love for Nature and all who belong to Nature, for all of life?
I really appreciate this particular rewilding activity! I believe one of the main reasons for the need of rewilding is a lack of an environmental ethics that is taught as the core of all learning, and not as something seen as a specialty. Environmental ethics and stewardship should be viewed as vital as social and emotional intelligence, because without these core disciplines of being human, humanity is the looser. We all loose if we do not take care of Nature. Giving back to Nature is a win-win proposition, and should be realized as the most common of sense.
February 23, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go tracking. Being someone who once did a lot of deer hunting, I really looked forward to this particular activity. Currently, I do not hunt deer, but I still appreciate studying the tacks of all sorts of animals. Whether it is dirt or snow, I love observing animal tracks in Nature.
I headed out to the woods to see what I could find, and it didn’t take long to realize I wasn’t going to be tracking much of anything with the current conditions. It hadn’t rained in awhile, and the decomposed granite soil wasn’t giving up any clues as to what had been walking around. I felt a little frustrated by this minor defeat, but then I realized the ‘lesson within the lesson’ – Nature does not work on a nice and neat little compartmentalized schedule, which we humans run our modern lives through. Nature thinks our day-planners are cute!
I value this structured rewilding program, but I value Nature’s leadership as being constantly flexible and open to adaptation, even more. External structures are fundamentally limiting, and that’s what they are for! External structures help us to not wiggle out of commitment and discipline, but when taken to their extreme, external structures can become too rigid. In Nature, rigid things often break, and usually signal death of the organism.
One overarching theme of modernity is rigidity. Much of our modern lives have become quite rigid. Just look at our highly polarized political scene; our politics have been poisoned by opposing rigid belief systems. In our culture, flexibility is often viewed as a weakness.
The rigidity of modernity’s dominant cultural institutions is a symptom of being fundamentally disconnected from the Way of Nature.
A large portion of our built environment gets its apparent strength from being rigid, but it also is fundamentally weak because of its rigid properties. We would be the wiser if we modeled our developments, and our daily lives, after Nature’s flexible and adaptable characteristics.
So, the ‘lesson within the lesson’ was to not be too attached to the set schedule, or even the time frame (e.g., 30 days) of the external structure of this rewilding program. The lesson was to utilize the external structure as a signpost, which guides one in the basic direction, but does not limit one to the totality of the experience. Rewilding is a subjective experience, but it does have traditional parameters. These parameters should not be viewed undiscerning through the lens of modernity.
I strongly believe that a meta-theme of rewilding is re-learning how to ‘be’ like Nature. When we rewild our lives we are remembering how to be authentically human, which transcends the constructs of modernity’s rigidity (e.g., our highly mechanized schedules).
February 24, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go get naked, and preferably in Nature. Lucky for me we are having an unseasonably warm winter here in Southern Oregon, which made this activity quite doable for this time of year.
Out of all the rewilding activities that have a socially challenging aspect to them, this is by far the most edgy one! Western culture’s Puritan influences have cast a shameful shadow across the naked human body. It would appear we are conditioned to be ashamed of our naked wild nature, and view it as a type of savagery, which we should aspire to raise ourselves out of and into the clothed civilized Western world.
To unpack the potential absurdity of many social constructs, one does not need to look any further than the social tension and hypocrisy surrounding nudity within Western culture. Ironically, the oppression of the naked body is actually quite uncivilized and has led to the rise of the huge industry of pornography.
Is our culture’s oppression of the naked body a symptom of a fundamental disconnect with the nature world? Is this oppression of open nudity a sign of being in denial of our wild-nature?
I believe there is great healing potential within the intentional vulnerability of being naked. Much of our modern lives are experienced through a physical separation from the natural world, and our use of clothing to hide our bodies exemplifies this separation. There is a direct connection between our cultural oppression of the naked body, and how we collectively treat the natural environment. Western culture prides itself on dominating Nature and covering its wildness. Much of our built environment can be viewed as a taming or clothing of the natural environment.
So, I chose to go get naked out in Nature. I went to a place that was near by, and affords a certain level of solitude. I was mindful of how my nudity may affect other users of the public land I was on, and I made sure I stayed in a somewhat secluded area as to not create conflicts with this particular rewilding activity and the current social contract we have about being nude in public.
I find this particular rewilding activity to be very helpful and quite challenging. On one hand, I feel very liberated when I take off my clothes out in Nature, and on the other hand, I can feel the social conditioning surrounding the oppression of open nudity. For example, I was enjoying the freedom of feeling my naked body out in the open air and sunshine when all of a sudden I heard a small child off in the distance yell for their mother. Instantly my mind went to my clothing and I decided it was time to get clothed. I was long past the thirty minutes of the activity, so I didn’t feel like I was shorting my experience, but it was the automatic response that really got my attention.
Overall, I really enjoy this type of rewilding, and believe it is healthy to be naked in Nature. I think this activity can help one to slow down and be with Nature at a very intimate level. However, as I was carefully navigating the rocky terrain of the area and felt the temperature begin to plummet due to the setting sun, I reflected upon the appropriateness of clothing and nudity. Meaning, there is a time and place for being clothed and naked. It would be naïve to think that all humans should be running around naked all of the time. This romantic perspective upon nudity is not grounded in the anthropological understandings of human adaptation to environmental conditions (e.g., humans have traditionally created different types of clothing to protect themselves from harsh environmental conditions). It is not that we are wearing clothing that is the issue; it is the “why” we are wearing clothing that needs to be reappraised and challenged.
February 25, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go into Nature and nurture a human connection. This particular activity suggested going into Nature with someone who is not necessarily a close friend. My interpretation of this activity is to utilize Nature as a medium for building or strengthening interpersonal relationships. Contrary to the mass media’s portrayal that being cutthroat competitive is how humans have successfully developed as a species, it is actually through collaboration and community that humans have proliferated. Nature can be a powerful medium for creating interpersonal collaboration and a sense of community.
I hoped to invite someone who fit the description of not being a close friend, but that plan did not match up with reality, so I adapted. I chose to invite my father.
In recent years, my father and myself have not spent much time together going for hikes in the hills and mountains, so this was a perfect opportunity to practice this particular rewilding activity.
I had just been up on Lower Table Rock the day before, and witnessed beautiful blossoms and hummingbirds, which my father greatly appreciates. So, I decided to see if he wanted to join me, and to my pleasant surprise, he did.
We ended up hiking about six miles over a few hours time, and we really had a nice time together. He is not a regular trail hiker like me, so it gave me an opportunity to practice patients and compassion, which are so fundamental for healthy interpersonal relationships.
My father is in his late seventies and is slowing down a bit, but I think this shared Nature experience gave him some needed inspiration to be more active, and especially in Nature.
My father and myself are quite different people. He is a retired surgeon, married for over fifty-five years, a father of four, a grandfather of six, and a property owner. I am an outdoor adventure leader, a single man, never married, one without a family, and one who owns very little. However, we do share a love for Nature, but we experience it differently. I think this fact gets at the heart of what this particular rewilding activity is all about; Nature is a medium that brings us together; Nature is what connects us all though time and space; Nature is the ultimate equalizer (e.g., socioeconomic status, gender, political, religious, etc.); Nature is the original womb of all interpersonal connections.
This was a profound rewilding activity for me. This brief experience has helped me to gain more depth of understanding about ecotherapy, and especially about how Nature can be a therapeutic container for all relationships, both interpersonal as well as intrapersonal. Prior to this rewilding activity, I was well aware of this aspect of ecotherapy, but approaching this simple exercise with the intentions of observing how my interpersonal relationship are influenced by Nature made this awareness more real.
I highly recommend this rewilding activity! I think the simple act of intentionally going into Nature with an open mind of how one’s relationships are affected by time in Nature can have a significantly positive outcome, both from within and without.
February 26, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to “be invisible” (to move as silently as possible) while spending time in Nature. One aspect of my interpretation of this particular rewilding activity is for one to reconnect to the vital importance of being truly present, and how that is connected to one’s historical place within Nature’s food chain. Meaning, Homo sapiens have developed as both hunter and hunted, and this historical role demanded our full attention. This historical role required a much deeper connection with Nature than is presently the norm within the person-nature relationship. When one goes into Nature with the intentions of not being detected by other beings, one is given the opportunity to become highly attuned to the environment, to one’s self, and to the characteristics of one’s person-nature relationship.
It was a rainy winter day here in Southern Oregon, and the forest had a silence to it that was only broken by the sound of raindrops hitting the leaf covered ground. Lately, most of my time in the woods has been trail running, which is not very silent or slow going, so this rewilding activity was a refreshing experience.
One of the first things I noticed as I was moving so methodically along the trail was how immediately present I became with the entire forest, which was primarily made up of madrone trees. It was like I could hear all the individual raindrops making their own unique sound in time and space. I started to notice the subtlest aspects of the trees, and gave them my full attention when I looked at them. Madrone trees have a beautiful smooth bark, and the raindrops were running down the bark like sweat or tears down someone’s smooth cheek or neck.
The activity became a walking meditation, which enabled me to enter a deep state of mindfulness and intimate connection with the forest. As I was moving along the trail, my visual perception would naturally switch from a soft focus to a more narrow focus. The soft focus allowed me to see a very large section of the forest all at once, and the narrow focus helped to identify specific aspects of what I was seeing. This walking meditation allowed me to walk through a doorway into my original home, which is Nature. I felt welcomed.
The American biologist E. O. Wilson has made popular the term “biophilia,” which basically means an attraction to Nature because of a genetic affiliation – Nature is our ancestral home, and the body knows this at the deepest level. When we go into the Natural environment, we are going home; going into Nature is a return trip.
I think this particular rewilding activity gets at the heart of the healing that needs to take place within the collective person-nature relationship, which is a primary goal of rewilding. There is great healing potential when one gives a relationship one’s full attention. Modernity is inherently distracting and does not encourage one to deeply connect with Nature as our family. The dominant cultural institutions of modernity continue to support a paradigm that views humans as being apart from Nature as opposed to a part of Nature. This has to change.
Out of all the rewilding activities I think this one may have spoken to me at the deepest level, at a level deeper than my present life’s everyday-awareness. I believe the human body has memories imprinted within its genetic code, and there is a growing scientific understanding of this historical biological memory and how our bodies interact with all environments (e.g., epigenetics). When one behaves in a way that recalls these ancient memories, one experiences an ancient way of being, which is not valued by modernity’s fixation with linear thinking and ways of knowing. When one taps into this ancient way of being, one is re-membering one’s authentic place within humanity.
February 27, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go tracking animals. The tracks that are left by animals tell a lot about their behavior. Whether one is tracking an animal while hunting, or just wanting to learn more about the animal’s daily life, tracks potentially reveal a lot about one’s habits. This is also true for us rational animals.
In the past, I hunted black tailed deer here in southern Oregon. One of my favorite aspects of hunting deer is the investigative work that goes into finding them within their habitat. The more one tracks an animal, the more one can actually start to think like that animal. The effective hunter learns how to be able to anticipate the behavior of the hunted. Tracks can tell a story of the past and the future.
At this point in my life, I enjoy tracking animals for the simple pleasure of observing their behavior and learning more about them as beings of Nature.
I decided to go tracking in the woods above Jacksonville. The City of Jacksonville’s Forest Park has lots of different types of animals, including black tailed deer, black bear, and cougar. There was some recent rain, which made the soil soft enough for the animals to actually leave tracks for me to find.
There is an obvious difference between human constructed trails and game trails. Game trails are usually much smaller and sometimes difficult to recognize in the forest floor. However, it didn’t take long before I found some game trails, which intersected the hiking trails I frequent. As I quietly walked along on the game trail I could see the subtle indentations in the leaf-covered forest floor from the narrow cloven hoof of the black tailed deer. I could visualize the deer walking ever so quietly along this old path, which climbed the hillside with a natural traverse. I could image their ears scanning the forest for signs of predators, and their noses creating a map of what was happening within the forest community.
I found an area that told a story of the deer’s daily life. This small game trail and deer tracks led me to a place where the deer lay down to rest, where they eat, and even signs of the cougars that want to eat them. I felt like I was getting to know my way around the deer’s home.
I think this particular rewilding activity has great potential to help one take on the more-than-human perspective. Tracking animals in a way that informs one about the animal’s way of life helps one to expand one’s sense of self beyond the normalized human-centered paradigm.
Our modern lives are primarily lived within a built environment that does not leave room for many animal tracks. We have built a world that fundamentally disconnects our senses from much of the other beings within Nature, and their way of life. We have built an ideological wall that blinds us to the tracks of Nature. No wonder many of us do not understand the ways of Nature.
Do you ever track the rational animal, us humans? Image what some of the more-than-human world thinks about our way of life, with our tracks of development, pollution, trash, and war. Our tracks of progress are difficult to miss. Our fast-paced modern lives can be difficult to keep track of, but think of what some of our less-than-positive tracks communicate. What are the implicit meanings of our tracks?
February 28, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go into Nature, and create one’s own secret sanctuary. It was suggested this sanctuary be in a place where not many people frequent, and it could be out in the wild somewhere or even in one’s backyard, if available. The idea is to create an altar made of natural materials, which pays homage to Nature.
A couple years back I built a rock fire-pit out in the wilds of our local Siskiyou Mountains, and I figured what a great opportunity to build upon a sanctuary I had already established. Ironically, my secret spot was so secret I almost couldn’t find it! For a while, I thought I might have to switch my rewilding activity to “wandering” but my persistence paid off, and I eventually found my secret spot.
This little “secret” spot lies on a ridge top, which leads to Dutchman Peak (7,418 ft, 2,261 m), and has broken views of the peak and surrounding valleys. The actual spot of the fire-pit has somewhat of the feeling of being in a room, which is created by a small open flat area surrounded by large trees.
The rock fire-pit was just as I had left it two years ago. It was partially covered in snow and looked beautiful in its dormant state. I almost didn’t want to disturb it. However, I proceeded to clear the snow off of it and then started to gather rocks from the immediate area to build the fire-pit into more of an altar. I made the initial ring of rocks more robust, and then selected five large rocks to create a “seat” and four points. The seat was metaphorical, of course, and could be used as a place to set offerings. The four points were arranged to coincide with the four directions – north, south, east, and west. I actually chose to place the grandest of the large rocks at the east position to pay homage to the rising sun, which made sense for an altar of fire.
Once I had finished building this altar I didn’t waste any time in starting a ceremonial fire to pay my respects to this sanctuary. It was cold and late in the day, and the clouds in the sky were starting to turn beautiful shades of yellow and gold. The snow-covered forest was also reflecting the sun’s radiant evening light. The waxing moon was high and bright, and shown down on my sanctuary through the forest canopy as if shinning through a sky light.
As the setting sun opened the gates to the magical realm of alpenglow, I couldn’t help but feel the sacredness and symbolism of the fire I had built and the fire in the sky. I was paying homage to the ultimate force of Nature, the sun, the giver of all life.
As I captured the last images of the setting sun and the red glowing forest, I heard a nearby owl give me a “whoooo whoooo” and I figured it was time to go home.
I think this particular rewilding activity is extremely powerful, especially if one is of the spiritual kind. Creating a personalized sanctuary in Nature can create a connection with Nature that is deeply intimate and profoundly meaningful. For example, the “seat” I created in my altar of fire is where my soul is seated.
This rewilding activity does potentially have its natural limitations for those of us who live in urban areas, but maybe another option would be to bring natural materials into one’s dwelling and create an altar to Nature within the home. Wherever one ends up creating this sanctuary, I think it is wise to create it with a solid level of detachment, because of the likelihood of it being disturbed by others. But this is okay, because the sacredness of any altar or sanctuary is within the relationship to Nature, and not to the physical symbol that the altar represents. Sanctuaries are sacred because we make them so through our relations. Sanctuaries are first created within our self, and can never be destroyed.
March 1, 2015.
Today’s rewilding activity was to go wandering. Within this activity, one is encouraged to follow one’s intuition and see where it leads. Wandering is an art, which requires confidence, trust, and a level of detachment to the outcome.
For this particular rewilding activity, I had made plans to go backcountry skiing at Crater Lake National Park, which is a spectacular landscape to wander through. A good friend decided to join me for this backcountry adventure. This friend had been with me during the “wild body” activity, so he was already aware and open to my rewilding intentions. Being an explorer himself, he was a perfect partner for practicing the art of wandering.
To be honest, truly wandering is not something I’ve done a lot of in my life. I’ve done a lot of exploring, but that is not necessarily the same as wandering. My background as an outdoor adventure leader has put me in a position of appearing to “know” where I’m headed while leading others. Habits can be strong internal limiters of behavior, which are difficult to change, and this area of my life is no exception. Most people don’t pay their guide/teacher to lead them around in a wandering fashion. However, I hope to help change this common perception/misperception of “knowing where one is going versus wandering into adventure.” I see wandering as the ultimate adventure.
So, we headed up to enjoy a beautiful day at Crater Lake National Park. There was a blanket of fresh snow covering much of the landscape; the skies were blue, and there was very little wind. It was a perfect day to go wander in the high country of the Cascade Mountains.
We didn’t wander the entire day away. However, a substantial portion of our climb into the higher country of Crater Lake was done in a wandering fashion. Our plan was to ski into an area I had previously skied in before, but we took a roundabout path to get to our desired destination, which was Applegate Peak. We wandered up the south ridge of Applegate Peak, not really knowing what to expect from this route.
Usually, when one climbs a mountain, one wants to take a direct route up, which avoids any unnecessary descents along the path. Well, traveling up and down during our climb was one of the unexpected consequences of our wandering. We ended up riding a bit of a backcountry rollercoaster, which is often viewed as a waste of time and energy by many backcountry skiers and snowboarders. However, a lot can be missed by taking the most direct route up a mountain or in life in general. When we go wandering we can discover some amazing things! Aren’t some of the best things in life those things that were not expected?
As we reached the top of one of the humps along our backcountry rollercoaster ride, we were gifted with a spectacular view of several different peaks in several different directions. Much of the ridge we were climbing was forested and did not afford clear views of the majestic landscape beyond the trees. We stopped to appreciate this special spot, this unexpected reward of our wandering, and took a break with food and drink. I captured some unique images of the peaks we could see, and then we headed off for the summit.
Wandering is a special gift that one gives one’s self. The main difference between being lost and wandering is in the trust one has within one’s self. Being lost and wandering are both a state of mind and a way of being. To truly wander is to walk in uncertainty, and appreciate this place of not knowing. Being lost is not trusting one’s self and missing the opportunity of exploring.
Our modern lives do not have time for wandering because wandering is not the most efficient way of getting there; but where are we really going anyways? Do we really know where we are going or where we will end up? Why not embrace life through the perspective of wandering?