to me wild means trusting my instincts; lying on a sunny boulder feeling like a lizard, no human sounds but my own breath and heart beat. wild is knowing how to birth a baby with no instructions from a doctor. wild is preferring to sip my tea overlooking a trickling creek than in a bustling cafe. wild is knowing with my entire being that I am part of this earth, just as other creatures are. exactly.
wild is feeling the pulse of the earth as our own. running. walking through a forest, along a beach, up a mountain and feeling "at home". wild is building a fire to stay warm; heck, it's just knowing that it is fire that keeps us warm. taking food from the earth with our own hands is wild. it's instinct; it's intuition.
wild is being connected to life's processes. it's feeling something in our gut; that's what animals do. but beyond that, wild is trusting it.
understanding how nature works helps us understand our own wildness but it's not necessary. we don't need to understand why ants do what they do to appreciate how we are the same (if you don't think we are similar, look at what they are doing.)
babies know they are wild when they cry for a breast (until we teach them it's not time; they have to be nourished on a schedule.) toddlers still know they are wild until we teach them it's not okay to sit in the dirt. we culture and domesticize the wild right out of us pretty quickly. On The Surface.
but if we sit alone by the creek long enough, or watch the birds collecting seeds before a storm, or sleep under stars long enough, we will remember. growing food. hunting food. chopping wood. birthing babies. making fire with a stick. defending our young. swimming in wild water. lying in a sunny patch in the forest with a lover. these things can help us remember.
-being on the computer? probably not.
-rushing in to starbucks for a pumpkin latte? not so much.
-checking stats on facebook/blog/website? nope
but hey, I'm not making fun - I do these things too. They're just not my wildest moments.
we have jobs, we have children and laundry and orthodontist appointments. we have oil changes, toilets to clean, teacher conferences and bills to pay. But, I am a wild creature and I know it. whether it is a trait valued in our culture or not.
So, what does wild mean to you?
Ruins Tank, Indian Peak, Apache Creek, Graver Wash, Hyde Creek Seep, Pine Creek, Dead Steer Basin, Deer Tank, Happy Camp, Two Lions Tank, Boneyard Loop, Granite Knob, Juniper Mesa. These are the names of home; the names of a place I love more than any other place on earth. This is the place where I have spent the past five and a half years; a place where my spirit set up camp and refuses to leave.
It is morning, early and cool; a perfect time to sit on the south side of any building. This morning, it is the south side of the old barn facing Walnut Creek. I can hear it's movement: a slow gurgle, sluggish, happy and waning from the winter's floods.
There is not a living human for miles, literally. The ranches to the east and west are busy with their ranchy duties, but in between it's just me, the dogs, the horses and the wildlife.
I haven't heard a single car or plane or human voice since last night at 5pm.
This is a special time for me; four days alone at Walnut Creek. The family has gone on a trip to California, so it's just me and the place I love. I haven't had a solo experience (for longer than one day) in about 18 years. I have four whole days and three nights!
When I was 19 years old, I wandered along the Appalachian trail for three months alone. It was a planned trip. I had planned the trip with a partner; however, she backed out three days before we were to leave. Everyone was sure I would cancel or postpone. Of course, I went anyway.
It was the first best thing I ever did with my life. I was alone! Completely alone and free and walking and walking and writing and thinking and listening. It was 1984, and at that time the Appalachian Trail wasn't exactly crawling with people. I walked the 100 mile wilderness 100% alone and I was ecstatic.
As a child I was always solitary, quiet and independent, but that long solitary walk did something to change the way I experienced myself in relation to the world (as in earth/planet.) That adventure solidified a feeling of connectedness and strength. I was simply another creature on this whirling blue/green planet. Nothing more; nothing less.
So here we are: Mountain Lion, Elk, Badger and Me.
The girl sits on the bank of the creek watching the mare. She watches as the mare picks her way along the edge, step by step, tearing new spring grass and clover with her wide flat teeth. The girl is silent but the mare knows she is there.
The hooves slosh slowly through ankle-deep water, mud, algae and sand. Flies buzz the girl, the horse, the algae. A slight breeze whisks them away, but they return.
The girl is alone with the horse; this is how it is every day: the girl comes and sits by the creek to watch the horse and feel something that she only feels here. Sometimes she lies in the dirt and leaves and wishes she could be the horse.
Sometimes the horse lies in the sand to sun and the girl will lie close and smile because the horse groans under her own weight (or maybe with pleasure.)
Sometimes the mare and the girl play; they chase and rear and prance. They laugh, each in their own way.
More often than not, though, they are silent together; the girl watching the mare or the mare touching the girl with her long tickly whiskers.
The mare is wild and that is why the girl loves to watch her. The mare has not been "broken" which makes her different than the other horses on the ranch. The mare is wild and perfect, after all, why change her?
The girl does not ride the horse, there is no saddle, no bridle, no bit or reins. There is just girl and horse and the creek under the mesa. And there is the wide quiet land, as wild as the horse.
Sometimes, when the girl is lying next to the water (and the mare is nearby) she considers never getting up, never leaving. She considers just letting the earth have her back. She thinks the world of humans is no place for her. When she is thinking these things, she is lying in the sand next to the creek. Leaves and sticks are tangled in her hair, insects and dirt cling to her clothes and skin. She does not move. Sometimes she cries and the tears mix with the sand and mud and creek water.
The world of humans is loud and busy and confusing; watching the mare is quiet and slow and simple. Being in the dirt and near the water and looking up at the mesa seems natural. Maneuvering in the world of humans with TV and credit cards and ambition does not sit well with the girl.
The girl knows that she must always be able to watch the mare eat clover on the edge of the creek. She must lie on the earth and let the vines grow into her hair. She must drink from the same creek the mare drinks from.
She cannot forget these things or she will be just a shell of the girl she once was; her spirit left behind on the bank of the creek and in the eyes of the wild mare.
In times of big water, the wild gets the upper hand and I feel a deep satisfaction inside. We cannot drive our cars, cannot cross the creeks; the roads have washed away. This year is the year of big water. The rain and snow melt from Apache Creek and the runoff from Juniper Mesa and Walnut Creek converges behind our barn.
Walnut Creek comes to meet Apache Creek and creates a flow so powerful, at times, that trees are torn free and sent down the creek. The fences keeping the cattle off the two hundred fifty acres are swiped aside in one moment by trees and debris. Animals are swept away and lodged along with other random items (garden hoses, tires, buckets) high in trees. I have happened upon squirrels, a doe and a young gray fox that lost their lives in the torrents of water cleansing these waterways.
Every year, once or twice, we head out with wire, fence tools and thick gloves to repair the water gaps and any other sections of fence destroyed by winter storms.
This winter the storms just kept coming, one after another. I didn’t believe the mud would ever end. Laundry drying on racks next to the wood stove, muddy dog prints all over the house, horses with soggy, foul-smelling hooves (horse people know what I am talking about,) and wet-dog smelling wool sweaters.
The seasons, here, get names. The grasshopper spring & summer when tiny ¼ inch grasshoppers ate every green thing that we planted in the garden (getting chickens cured that;) Kiva’s broken leg and surgery year (trampoline;) the autumn we “went off gluten”; the elk summer (when elk came every night to graze and sleep in the tall grass near the house;) the rattlesnake summer, when we saw a rattlesnake every day. Kiva nearly stepped on a Northern Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossuss: pictured above) and it struck her flip-flop, missing her foot by ½ inch.
This was the winter of big water and mud.
I can still hear the creek flowing loudly. Not angry like after a monsoon flash flood, but busy and happy like a group of children free to play at whatever they like, as long as they like. I will not always hear it from where I sit on the south side of the hen house. By the end of May it will be barely a whisper, a tiny voice we can only hear if we walk down to its edge.
The creek ebbs and flows, sometimes gentle, sometimes angry, sometimes giggling, sometimes sleeping. But even during the driest years, water can be found. Tiny pools swimming with quiet, struggling life. Tiny tracks up to the edge, careful not to disturb this gift of water.
On sunny winter mornings I come outside with my tea to let the chickens out. I sit in a chair on the south side of the hen house to sun, if even for only a few minutes. I sip the tea and watch the hens peck and scratch around. The dogs wander over to lay at my feet. I gaze around, across the meadow to the edge of the forest that borders the creek. Years ago, when the dogs were younger, less experienced, or off on a dog adventure, I watched a coyote walk into the field and select a fat hen for breakfast.
I chased it across the field and was in awe of being so close to that magnificent, opportunistic beast - maybe twenty feet or so. He or she did not drop the hen, but loped silently away with the squawking hen. The coyote took her just inside the tree-line and ate her. I found the feathers later. These days, with the two big german shepherds, we rarely see a coyote in the meadow; They will stay in the shadows and laugh at us with a yelp and chuckle. The dogs howl to let the coyotes know they are on watch. It’s a game, I think, between wild and tame.
If the chickens venture too close to the meadow/forest transition, the are taking chances. They do get eaten, but rarely. Natural selection is at work and each year the flock gets stronger and wilder. Almost every year a hen disappears, and after we put up a good search, we count our losses. After we’ve forgotten her, she emerges with eight or ten new chicks. We rarely find the nest and a new batch of wilderness savvy Buff Orpingtons enters out lives.
The wild and the domestic coexist here.
AND speaking of coyotes... my favorite read all year: The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton
Today I went for a sunny run through my beloved mountains after a morning of studying. The dogs trotted along, dodging in and out of bushes and trees. I run in the mountains with only my dogs. It is a solitary and deeply fulfilling experience. Running through forests without trails, over boulders and through creeks reminds me of the path I have chosen with horses. The path is in my heart; it is not clear; it is not paved or well traveled. I have to go with the feel, stay strong.
I found the work of Alexander Nevzorov a couple years ago while searching for a deeper way to be with my horses. Everything I found in the school’s teaching was already in my heart. I had stopped using bits, bridles and saddles years ago, even stopped riding. Becoming a student of the school was like finding a long lost friend. I could finally breathe and be myself.
Now, I spend time just hanging with my horses; I let them come to me instead of going to get them. They are no longer tools or objects for my recreation. We stretch together, lay in the sun together, go on walks together, and play games. We work on simple cordeo (loose neck cord) turns and stops from the ground, pedestal exercises, tail (back) to hand, lift and hold the leg up. I trim their feet (no shoes), study Equine Anatomy and Physiology, and do a lot of reflecting on why I have horses in my life. I love the strength and beauty in them. I love the relationship. I no longer want to control them, and they know this. Now, they will do almost anything I ask of them. The difference is that now I ask. They, as individual beings, have a right to refuse. We have developed something that is rare and beautiful (and odd, I might add, to traditional horse people.) But that is the beauty of individuality and finding your own path.
Most of my life has been lived outside the mainstream. I am used to doing things differently and because of this I am always on the outskirts (literally and figuratively.) I live in a cabin in a secluded national forest valley nestled between two mountain ranges and wilderness areas. My family, my animal friends and this land are my best friends.