I hunger for wild places. I long to be swallowed up by woods, prairies or mountain ranges. I need to walk where there aren’t necessarily clear paths. I want to be where I can’t hear cars or trains in the distance, where wi-fi isn’t meters away, where alternately silence and animals deafen. I hunger for wild places in the same way I need gloves in the winter or food in my belly. I do not understand this hunger, like claustrophobia if too long unmet.
And it goes unmet often for long periods because although I am much outside, I am still confined by what has become the natural habitat of our species: steel, pavement, streetlights, architecture and enterprise. I need to be away from neatly laid out blocks, away from codified grids superimposed on all manner of topography, away from gratuitous pockets of tamed and manicured nature, away from what Barbara Kingsolver calls the hominid agenda.
But when we visit the ocean, it is my agenda to swim to the buoys. Used to laps in a pool, it is thrilling to swim in salt water and match my stroke to waves. I feel victorious when breathless I reach the buoys. Treading water, I turn to face the shore and it’s with great satisfaction I note how far people are. Then I turn to the horizon.
It is unsettling to say the least.
Besides the buoys, I am the only thing bobbing in the water as far as I can see. An occasional seagull lights on a buoy and cocks its head in my direction. I want to enjoy the moment, the sound of water, light breeze. But I have a monkey mind that plays scary movie scenes featuring water. I imagine sinister creatures snaking around in unseen depths below me. I wonder if I’ll have a stroke or a heart attack and that distant shore I was so proud of is too far. No one will be able to reach me in time to save my life. I feel afraid. And small, suddenly humbled and vulnerable in ways I wasn’t just moments ago.
And yet I hold myself here. Like a yoga pose that in its discomfort awakens my body, this experience pries the lid off my soul, rousing feelings I do not like or want.
All my busyness, accomplishments, failures, ambitions, fears, joys; all that make up my life crumble away. How inconsequential I am in this vastness squashes down on me. Why remain in this frightening discomfort? Why hunger for wildness if it triggers awareness of my nothingness? Why not keep my gaze to the shore rather than the horizon?