The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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Un-Schooled: Valuing What No One Else Can Tell You

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.  ~Kahlil Gibran 

We are a society that values academia but questions knowledge. Education that does not come with an invoice is overlooked or deemed suspect. Students are funneled through grad schools, seminaries, mail-order certification courses, and retreats aimed to connect student with guru/teacher/master, the one who claims to have “the word”. There’s no end to the deluge of purchased thought and those willing to sell. Those who question this blind system of organized education are simply labeled uneducated, outlaw, savage, unenlightened, or delinquent. When education is criticized, said criticism pertains to problems in public schools, lack of funding for educators and low-income students, and failing state colleges. Rarely, does one read an article about the problems inherent in the institutionalization of learning. 

Quite possibly, the biggest challenge to learning in our purchased degree-driven society is though the discernment of both teacher and idea. Ours is a culture addicted to efficiency and immediacy. Where these addictions have grown something positive, there are numerous examples of technological and scientific advances. I need not go into the benefits in any great detail; modern man boasts on these accomplishments fervently. However, where we are left anemic is in the area of critical thinking. Independent thought, mastery of problem solving, and old-fashioned “gut smarts” are seldom encouraged when dealing with standards and benchmarks. These rare talents have resulted in a collective gullibility that has the United States as a whole susceptible to blind party allegiance, thoughtless to laws that are – peering in from outside – verging on fascist, and ever so willing to demonize other cultures, races, anyone who does not align with the dogma of the day. Riding the forefront of this wave are the educated and successful, those who believe they’ve done the right thing, deserve their spoils. These entitled souls are perhaps the least discerning among us, for they have built their lives around the system of principles that supports this grand illusion of deserved property and prestige.

On the flip-side of the madness of politics and corporate corruption, class war and hierarchy, we have emerging from the vindicated mists of spiritual liberation, survivalists, militants, cult heads, and new age teachers willing to pander their own spoiled salvation. Countless smart, enlightened folks have flocked to the deviant savior who offers respite from the modern machine. Never a unique proposition or creation, these gurus sell Native American or early Americana, Paganism or Buddhism, or any form of “authentic” knowledge born from those who came before.

In our quest for answers to life’s most important questions, we have grown subservient to the knowledge of others, while forgetting our own sense of truth, awareness, and perception. To make matters worse, we are pushing willful ignorance, entrenched educational systems, and academic debt onto future generations. Many of us, both young and old, now skip problem solving entirely in an immediate Google search frenzy for quick solutions. One common complaint I hear from teachers, is that their students no longer want to think through a problem to arrive at an answer; they simply want the answer. That’s what they are paying for, after all.

Far from luddite, self-exploration and independent learning are paramount to discovery and to re/evolution. The best thing we can hope for as lifelong students is to connect with the teacher whose response is “What do you think?” in lieu of the one with a costly answer. We hope to find the teacher who understands that his/her job is to merely crack open the door with infectious enthusiasm and experience-driven joy, imploring the student to enter in, not through ego and economics, but through a sheer happiness and authenticity in the delights of life’s lessons.

Nothing changes in an institutionalized system of processes and input/output function. This approach simply rewards worker bees with increasing debt and a head-full of “must do-s” for a mandated American life. And, how shall this logjam be moved? Through radical thinkers, the rebels, the revolutionary women and men willing to move away from the norm. Thanks to them, some of our most ingenious discoveries, inspiring art, and necessary social movements have been created.

Let us not forget that access to learning is within each of us. Academia provides the baseline and the all-important paper needed to obtain that insidious career, but learning is everyone’s right and responsibility. Questioning basic assumption becomes second nature when flexing the muscle of critical thought. It is in the wisdom of a grandfather who allows his granddaughter to make a mistake or two (or three) while learning how to fix a problem under the hood. It is with the mother who listens intently to her son’s struggles with self-esteem and encourages him to listen to his feelings and adjust his actions based on the lessons these feelings convey. And, it is with the professor who instills a deep love of questioning – moving beyond textbook to exploration and challenging his own concepts and ideas. It is in each of us who are brave enough to say “no” when something feels wrong, or “yes” when the path before us is too compelling to stay comfortably seated at home.

With all of the information now literally at our fingertips, it becomes ever more crucial to problem solve, deeply consider, and weigh outcome against proposition. Employing this level of inquiry and intuition will certainly bring you to a deeper understanding of your talents and abilities and will lead you to the teacher or academic path best suited to your style of learning and the true heart of knowledge.

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Returning Home

ImageI confess: when I am not out finding some new uninhabited place to become entangled, wide-eyed, and inspired, I am often at home… CLEANING. Yes, I just used the dreaded “c” word for which many woods-women like me try to avoid. But I do like to clean. Being a fine balance between nest-er and nomad, I find the ritual component of sweeping an old broom across the kitchen, wiping away layers of Sonoran desert sand and dust from the dressers, and folding freshly washed towels strangely satisfying.

I have often grappled with these disparate feelings — the urge to run unabashedly unorganized, hair and limbs akimbo, and my drive to be neat and orderly.  As much as I dislike packing all of my camping gear and checking things off a list, I get a good deal of contentment from putting it all back in place after dragging in, achy and full of grand adventures tracking wildlife or trying out a new trail.  Much like my time spent boondocking hither and yonder; there is a regaining of creative energy I experience while in the throes of my annual spring purge. I paint new colors over scuffed, white walls, combine vintage linens with French lace, bring out seasonal items that call to mind metaphor, symbolism, and the rituals of the ever-changing earth. I surround myself with the breeze of new March warmth coming through the screens and filling my nostrils with blooming orange blossoms. Indeed, this is a creative moment, a powerful opportunity to honor space, place, home, and even journeys to our favorite wildlands, as it is always in coming home that our journey most deeply resonates.

Cleaning is a nurturing act for others, but has deeper roots in self-love. Cleaning perhaps takes its most ardent form when in the cleaning, transforming, and healing of body, of self. A lot can be said of a person’s self-worth and awareness simply by the capacity for pleasure (or disdain) felt when tending to the changing of bed linens, the scrubbing of the bath, the gentle hand washing of delicate garments, and the details added to enhance the experience (soft lights, natural scents, herbal soaps). Whether one chooses this path of loving care or opts for harsh cleaners, deodorants, tweezers, and antiseptic sprays, much can be conveyed in our simple, daily chores. Again, where there is an opportunity for silent, aware, loving nurturing, there is ritual and a chance to return to our most beloved, natural selves.

Often while in the wild you will find me with a very clean camp, a tidy tent, and everything in its place. There are some valuable reasons why one should keep a clean camp – avoiding other critters interested in a free meal, for starters – and to practice Leave No Trace principles, ensuring minimal impact on the land. For me, it is more. I find home wherever I am. In my tent, I often have a few photos of loved ones, a focal point of meditation or symbolism, such as a piece of obsidian, my journals, and a good reading light. Home is where I am at the time. Home becomes the Gila Wilderness for the night, while camped next to an elk-worthy meadow. Home is Wet Beaver Creek and the cool plunge on a hot summer day, hammock in tow. Home is the back of my jeep while traveling through the Painted Desert, chasing the last crow to be lit by the purple and final light of the sun. Home is where I am from, yes. Home is where I happen to be right now.

Neatness may seem like a matter of inconsequence without further inspection. But the care and love we feel when tending to the ground beneath our feet, our surroundings, the objects and collections, and our own earthly body just may be an accurate gauge as to how we treat the earth, the wild home of other animals, of other cultures, of the unknown. In this knowledge and awareness, being home is always one’s state of being. And as Dorothy says, “There’s no place like it!”


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Lessons in Awareness

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I was about to write this particular blog post for a separate, intermittent poetry journal to keep it from going completely dormant. I thought, because this post is about INTUITION and the SENSES and how I have come to a deeper awareness of both when in the wild, these topics would somehow seem too esoteric, too emotional, and God forbid, too poetic for an environmental blog. I thought there must be some figurative border wall between writing passionately and writing logically.

But I stopped myself from indulging this undue separation of wild lands and wild feeling. After all, isn’t it that we are drawn to the wild because it sings to us and coaxes us out, so we can enjoy its peace, its healing, its sensory gifts?
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I have had several dreams recently of a fox. Usually, the fox in question is running through trees, alongside my car, or in thick brush. When I notice him; I wake up…

This past Saturday night was spent winter camping in the Sierra Ancha’s, a range just northeast of Phoenix, above the Tonto Basin. Winter camping in Arizona isn’t quite as intense an experience as in areas with lots of snow and threat of avalanche, but certainly a winter camper in the mountains here will meet nights of below freezing temps and winds, snow hugging north-facing slopes, and an icy dampness across the earth. I knew the experience of camping in the Ancha’s would be uncomfortable and in that discomfort, I dreamed of connecting more, sensing more, and physically challenging myself to make adjustments or adapt.

Our arrival on Saturday morning was pleasant. The thermometer read mid-50s and sunshine poured through winter branches and warmed rocks. Few people were on trails or forest roads. So, into the perimeter of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness we went – a friend and I – seeking solitude in the hidden joys of the low season. As we hiked up to a waterfall — just a ridge away from where Edward Abbey spent time in a fire lookout during the late 60s — the air filled our lungs and nostrils with the metallic scent of snow.  And, yes, snow has a scent. I never thought of this before, but it does: a mixture of soil and decomposed rock (minerals). This was the first lesson in sensory perception.

Making our way back to camp, the puddles and creeks bore the impression of the impending night and subsequent coldness ahead of us. Ice crystals clung to the banks and fractured layers of ice topped Rose Creek. With our fire lit and our bellies full, we watched the western light diminish above us, as we prepared for the night and took an extra sweep across the site to ensure no crumbs or bits of food remained.

Deep under the covers, I listened; first, to the sound of running water, and then to the careful steps of small hooves passing near the tents. Reading and journaling, I noticed the chill of the air on my exposed face and fingers. My breath fogged my glasses. Condensation dampened my wool blanket, above another blanket and my winter grade bag. How infrequent it is that I should feel this cold. A night unprepared in the woods leaves an indelible impression. ( I never camp without back up blankets and layers this time of year. ) Some time later, I would crawl out and seek gloves and a hat… and much later, another pair of socks.

As I dreamed beneath the pines, the forest remained alive, vigilant, and pulsing. Some animals roamed and rooted; some animals were sleeping also. The creek fell to a quiet murmur as the night passed.
 
Around 6am, I awoke to the proud yaps and eventual serenade of a coyote above the ridge. Within seconds of his finale, the sun broke the darkness. Did he sense the coming break of dawn? Peering out into the morning, I noticed fox tracks near my tent and I recollected the sounds of the night. Deer was identified, as was the bravado of coyote. But fox… no sounds, no sighting. Clever fox, slipping between day and night, never loses awareness, yet eludes us in our lack thereof.

A night of winter camping brings me into myself, tingles my skin, and perks up my ears. Fox sense can be described as the ability to discernibly perceive, to see but not be seen. Fox teaches the importance of blending in and remaining aware. I can think of no greater lesson in perception and adaptability. I humbly give thanks to both teachers: Winter Season and Fox.