The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place

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Picture 246

In the woods of my youth, I would tell my dreams to whomever would hear them, usually the swayback mare or the barn swallows who built their nests high in the corn crib. As a child of the country, the forests were my refuge. In the woods I was someone, the narrator of my own life, the one I meant to have.

On summer days I would spend hours looking for insects, reptiles, and amphibians. I was obsessed with their seeming insignificance or disdain felt by most humans. For me, they became worlds beyond worlds, an unseen realm of dreamers keeping track of the earth’s secrets. They saw things most mammals cannot see. They recorded the events of much more complex creatures with their own simple arithmetic of rhythmic chirps and bellows.

In these times, I seek out this refuge, but where do I find it? Gone is my Indiana home of wildflowers and forests skirting the edges of farms. In a desert city, there are few places to hide from the chaotic world. A friend of mine used to refer to the human world as the “meat world” and nature as the “fur world”. The fur world is much more than that. It is the place of plants and stone and soil. It is the water world, and the decomposed humus that reminds us of our death.

One of my favorite places in the woods was a natural sinkhole. I would sit there among the saplings and undergrowth, imagining it to be a cocoon, a sacred bowl that contained protective powers where I would feel safe, where I would speak to God.

For so long, I have been without refuge. What I found was false sanctuary in a bottle, running, un-remembering. In this limbo, I am learning to return to the lessons of insects. What appears to be insignificant can sometimes save. I cultivate a refuge among ant hills and alleyways where coyotes run.

And in my cityscape, I listen to the wild beneath.





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The Romantic’s Triad: Hope, Faith & Love

 “I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years…”

These are some of the lines from a song currently on the radio. The theme is by no means unique to contemporary songwriting.  Most films, books, and songs now seem to revolve around unrequited love, jealousy, self-perpetuating misery, or conquest. Underneath these themes lies hope.

Over the past few weeks, I have done quite a bit of reflecting on the subject of love and contemporary romance. I am an Enneagram 4: the Tragic Romantic. Tragic. Throughout my life, most –  if not all – of my romances seemed to circle around the motifs of the damned: loss and high drama. I absorbed them; they absorbed me.  The relationships I have experienced (and witnessed) have been deeply rooted in some level of intense need and inaccessibility. I was a seeker of the wounded. I recognized wounds. I didn’t recognize health.

“I go to your door shivering…
You ask me to come in

you don’t know it’s me
Still you don’t know”

~Nancy Mitchell

My worth as a human became entangled in how much  I could bear or how much I gave. I was not alone in this. Many of the relationships I have witnessed contained the dynamic of hope and dishonesty. Dishonesty cannot exist in a relationship without denial, and greater than denial: hope. Hope that the other will come around and be what is needed: more loving, more communicative, more sexual/sensual, more reliable, more more more. We live on this misplaced hope, thinking if we wait long enough, or do XYZ enough, then everything will work out.

Life goes by in the meantime. Rarely have I ever seen a person relying upon hope receive their desired outcome. Perhaps one of the most wasted energies, aside from guilt, is hope. Hope implies an anticipated outcome that will somehow externally align with an internal wish. Faith, on the other hand, is rather focused on the outcome that IS and WILL BE, that has no sense of expectation or outcome. Faith implies acceptance in Life on Life’s terms (or God, or Allah, or Self, or whomever one relies upon).

“Hope is a bird with wings
That sits on a branch
And sings and sings”

I think what most of us missed in these lines from perhaps one of the most tragic of romantics, Emily Dickinson, is the idea that hope has wings, yet sits on a branch. Hope is not active. Hope stays on the branch singing of its desires, but does not fly to meet them.

Now I appreciate this poem so much more.

Like many, I spent ample time throughout my life hoping. First, as a teenager dreaming of escape – I wanted more than anything to leave the confines of the rural Midwest. I had grandiose ideas about my life then, and I don’t think I ever outgrew these ideas. Settling down never appealed to me. Accepting my reality appealed even less. Hope for something new did.

When I quickly realized that hope would only take me as far as the front porch, I learned to dislike hope and its false promises. Rather, I grew to love action, decisions, bold risks. And so… this is how my life unfolded. In energy. In a tornado. I traveled. I changed jobs. I moved out of love, not once but twice… infatuation even more.

I grew hungry for movement. Movement made me feel alive.

Alive in every way, except in love.

Oh, you see, hope never left me. It remained inconspicuously there, reciting lines from all of the romantic classics I read as a child, whispering the promise of belonging in my ear, a promise for which I was living, unknowingly.

You see, belonging chained me to hope. Being loved, I became its slave as the air in my body tightened, my health declined, my natural curiosity fell from the branches of my being. I wanted, more than anything that child-starved love I was denied, and it was my bird on a branch. It caused my Self to sink into a space I am only now beginning to find.

Hope. I loved and I paid dearly. I lived in hope and denial like a starved animal waiting for the buzzards and wolves to leave.

we know: we are more
than blood – we are more
than our hunger and yet
we belong”

~ Mary Oliver

Looking back, I was dying. My spirit was dimming. I lost faith in something larger than love, a love that only the sense of belonging can bring. I made the mistake of believing belonging came through the experience we have in shared communion with another. My sense of being was tied to humanity, when I was always held to something else – something vastly intimate, something so true no human needs to complicate it. I belonged to the living world, the breath of the mother, and the pulse of life. I not only have faith in this, I regard it as the greatest form of wisdom: we always belong, and love is our domain.

I have not reached this place of knowing, but I strive for it every day. When you know, viscerally, intimately, that you belong, hope wanes and faith steps in. The struggle ends. The bird flies with her song.