Wildness

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Mother Nature — how accurate that we call her a “mother,” the mother of all this life around us. To call Mother Nature mother means she’s “woman,” though not a woman, but womanish in her way which is wild, untamed, fecund and free-spirited. She follows no path; she moves everywhere. She stirs the oceans into unruly waves, she tangles the grasses like unkempt hair. She’s wild. Womanish wild.

wild eyeAnd yet in her wildness — how does she do it? — she’s perfectly skilled and careful, fashioning each feather in the sparrow’s wing, just so, the dapple on the forest floor, the veins in a leaf. From her womb everything is born, elegantly made but unscripted, perfectly formed but set free — wild. The sparrow flies in quick arcs and dips, unmanaged by anything, the shadows on the forest floor play by themselves, the veins of one leaf are never the same as another’s.

We humans have done our best to tame Mother Nature, make her predictable like ourselves, fence her. We’ve built roofs above us to keep her wild rain from our faces. Good, we need that, we need some safety. But have we gone too far? Have we forgotten something?

“In wildness is the preservation of the world,” said Thoreau walking away, looking over his shoulder at the roadways and towns following him. “How near to good is what is wild!” he said. “Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest.” He writes:

“Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man—a sort of breeding in and in…"

We who are so concerned with saving the world — and ourselves — perhaps we can learn something crucial to our task from our wild mother, from how her wildness is both perfect artistry and perfect freedom. So let us ask again: how, indeed, does she do it?

Not by planning certainly, though she remembers everything that has happened and creates from that wholeness. Her wildness, extravagant in the extreme, is somehow frugal too — a million sperm for one egg, every raindrop of the trillions brought back to the clouds, every falling leaf put to use. Her law above all is life! — she proceeds always towards life. Even death, which seems to us so final and tragic, is to her alive.

And if we turn our attention to the most insignificant, small-scale sounds and movements of her wildness — do they tell us anything? Things like the sounds of water flowing over rocks, the turning of a hawk’s head, every rustle in the forest, all give evidence of… what? Responsiveness? Perhaps that’s it, her responsiveness is her mother-way, her nature, her Tao, exactly appropriate and always spontaneous.

Spontaneity! Every instant she is present and becoming something new — it’s as if the moment is hers and is the source of her intelligence. What does that say to us? Could we touch that spontaneous intelligence too? Now? Perhaps it’s closer than we think.

And what else? So much! We could sit at her feet and learn forever. Her fierceness teaches us caution, her indifference, humility, her nurturing, love. But let us note here just two more ways of her wildness, both of them obvious and both nearly lost to us.

First, so clear to see, she is beautiful. It is not an accident. Her beauty, in part, is how well she makes everything fit — sky to earth, river to land, tree to forest, mother to child. See how the dawn’s first sunlight touches the sides of the trees! How the small blue eggs fit in the nest! How blessed we would be if we could make our doings, our cities and commerce, fit so well to her!

And then there’s this — can we say it without sounding grand? — her wildness, as ordinary as rain splashing on a leaf, reveals the holiness we have longed to know and to be intimate with. Her wildness is holy wildness. Her presence is sacred presence. Her ways are sacred ways. In their wild evanescence they disclose the wholeness, livingness, responsiveness, spontaneity and beauty that can teach us what we so dearly need to learn.