Last week I had a long chat, while strolling along the Willamette, with an American woman who resides in Europe. She adores being in wild nature, and Europeans have done an impressive job of reducing wild nature to a few tiny dots. Most Europeans have never experienced healthy wildness. This is sad. She wants to come home.
Yesterday, the good pastor Clark dropped by my tent in Facebookland with a bottle of gin and a George Monbiot essay, Ghost Psyche. The essay was an excerpt from his new book, Feral, which explores the notion of rewilding. Monbiot lives in Wales, a land where most of wild nature has been erased. In the essay, he described having strange sensations whilst carrying the warm corpse of a Chinese deer — powerful feelings from the ancient spirit of wildness that is buried somewhere in his psyche.
Most modern folks seem to be disconnected from nature, a great tragedy. Do wordsmiths have the power to break this curse? I sense that nature is a far better spell breaker than books. Anyway, reading Monbiot triggered a flashback. In the autumn of 1982, I was living in an old farmhouse about eight miles west of Kalamazoo. The following are the words of a 30-year-old man, having an exciting experience — a sweet memory.
Intense, intense, intense! These are wild times. Desolation Acres is about to lift off and fly into a new and strange reality. Christ! I've barely slept in the last two days. The powers that roam the land have come here for a gathering. Wizards fill the sky. Magic is everywhere. The moon is as full as my heart. Almost.
The leaves are just going mad in a visual hurricane of color. The sumac is turning red, the sassafras is bright orange and yellow, as are the maples. The apple trees are turning golden, as is the giant hickory tree, which has been here since the beginning of time.
The day is a spectral explosion, and the night is a precious moon land. The hunter's moon. In pagan times, it was the “blot monat” — the blood moon. A time for slaughtering animals for winter food.
The sun has set on another day. I sit in its afterglow. Feathery clouds swirl on the horizon. They alone still breathing in the sunbeams, flushed hot and pink. Vivid gashes against a soft pale blue-purple background. The owls are coming out for the nightly hunt.
The air is moving slowly now. Resting. Who? It has the smell of cider. The orchard behind the house was not picked this year. Nor last. Tons of apples lie on the ground, brown and split. It's the death season. All the summer's fruit rotting in the weeds. Who? The wisp clouds are turning purple. Daylight makes its last stand. It's losing too. Dying. Who?
Beyond the orchard is a vineyard. It was not picked this year. Nor last. Its fruit is rotting. Dying on the vine. Who? The leaves will soon be dropping to the ground. Why must summer end? Why does the fruit lie untouched? Why am I alone tonight? Who? “Who?” — me, you noisy owl!
It's the death season. Life retreats in fear. A piercing visual scream. It's over. The sun grows ever weaker. The cold nights rip and tear with sharp teeth. Green is just a memory now. A ghost. Summer is dead and rotting. King Frost blows over the land with his sharp crystal spear and his cold snowy breath.
A bug is stiffly walking across the sidewalk. He can't outrun the winter. He may get a hundred yards, but he'll never make it to Miami. He'll die here. Like everything else. Will I? Will death take me too? Will I turn yellow and orange and fall to the ground? Will I lie in the weeds, brown, split, and rotting? Eventually.
It's an old farm. The ground is soaked with blood and sweat, and the air is full of spirits. The new mother with the hot babe at her breast, wheezing old ladies, plump-handed farmers. These walls have seen many lives come and go. Passionate love-making, the screams of childbirth, infants growing into young men and women, and by the warm hearth rests the faithful dog, Death.
It's my turn now to sit here and contemplate life. To gaze at the stars, along with unseen thousands of other dreamers. It's my turn to dream. To paint the blank future with vivid fantasies. It's my turn to be lonely tonight. It's been my turn for loneliness for far too long. Loners write the great painful poems, the wet-eyed ballads, they paint the wild strange pictures that you never forget.
Yesterday, I was walking through the fields looking at the leaves. There was a rustle in the weeds and out burst a good-sized doe. She sprinted into the woods. As I was watching her, I heard another rustle to my right. It was a big buck. I'm sure he was taller than I am. His antlers were three feet across.
I was spell bound. My mind went into slow motion as I watched him gracefully hurdle the vine rows. He moved in high powerful arcs with the grace and precision of a ballet dancer. His white tail had long hair. As he flew through the brush, it waved good-bye to me. I watched him, entranced. It was magic. All that power and wildness in such flowing motion.
That beautiful creature belongs to this land much more than I do. His descendants were here long before this farm. Before the British. Before the French. Before the Indians. Back when this land was a virgin forest. Roving packs of hungry wolves filled the night air with loud and frightening songs. Bears and big cats were here too. The deer will be here after man is gone. I admire their endurance.
The deer have been blessed with strong legs and sharp minds. They've never been tamed. They don't graze on chemical feeds in the farmyard. Absolutely wild. They live on apples, grapes, grass, moss, and whatever else they can find. They're pure. They live totally off the land. This is their land. They have always been here. I admire their purity, I admire their beauty, I admire their strength.
As I watched this huge beauty dance through the vineyard, I had a spiritual experience. I felt the warm holiness of this animal. I felt as though I was sort of a half brother to him. His wildness called to my wildness. The deer-spirit sang to me. My wild man heard him. Come run with me through the fields wild man. Chase me with sharp sticks you slow-footed furless troll. You'll never catch me, but let's dance the dance of the hunt.
For a few moments, as I stood there watching eternal wildness, so free, so alive, so pure — my civilized man completely disappeared. I was totally free and wild. Sizzling emotions boiled through my body cleansing and purifying me. I was at one with the spirit and energy of the planet. I was the life force, and the life force was me. The deer and I were one. Fury and wildness. Wotan.
Wires were crossed in my mind, and I ceased being civilized. The wild man has an intense life energy. Survive! Eat or die. Make fire or die. Build shelter or die. Kill or die. Life is a tightrope walk over the gaping jaws of death. Forever on the brink. No beer bellies or flabby asses. Sharp eyes, sharp ears, sharp noses, and strong.
And then I heard gunshots. I walked to the field where the sounds had come from. I looked around and noticed a very red bush on the north side of the opening. I walked toward it and stopped. I looked down in horror to see a patch of blood-smeared grass and a pile of shiny red organs and grey intestines. Nearby was the furry white tail.
My stomach dropped. I was furious. What sacrilege. Some damned idiot geek had in a moment destroyed something very sacred. One less wild and free energy on the planet. It wasn't even hunting season yet. I carried the heart back to the farm. I couldn't let it rot in the weeds. I couldn't let it be wasted.
What a wild smell! It filled the kitchen, it exploded in my head, it soaked into my skin like a tattoo, indelible, permanent. I washed the heart and the sink turned bright red. It was a big heart, bigger than my own. I was awed. I felt small. A weakling. I waited for it to cook.
The oven did not tame the smell of the wild. I cut off a piece and put it in my mouth. Wild. His odor permeates my essence, his flavor fills my mouth, and his heart and I are one. I was off again to the wilderness. Howling, yelping, wide-eyed, fierce, and strong. One with the wild. One with the free. I've eaten the heart of the Forest King.
My civilization has received a serious wound. It was the dominant force in me, and there it sits bleeding in the corner, confused. It doesn't understand wildness. It never has. Society will no longer be my home. I can't go back. I've been broken. My wildness has been ripped free from deep inside. I've felt it surging through my veins. Electrifying me. I've broken the mystery. I now know the truth. I ride on the night winds with my ancestors. They're so happy I've returned.