The Wild Muse

wildness, wonder, and the spirit of place


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The Severing of Limbs, Not Roots

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Winter Trees, A. Sato

Her silence and wild
falling is a compass
of hunger and memory.
Jennifer Sweeney,
The Snow Leopard Mother

Recently, my grandmother of 94 found herself in a situation many older people find themselves in, and that is whether or not to sell the family home.

Home is not just a place in the suburbs where one might insist on features such as a pool or a bigger garage. Home for her is the trials of young marriage, of saving every penny, of building one’s home – not by contractor but by hand.

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Ghost in the Forest, Thomas Dodd

In this way, identity is not something we are given, but something earned. We are bruised into Self and sustain so many tumbles and twists before our personhood is built into recognition.

To think of Self in this way, we are always tumbling and rebuilding with the raw materials of experience.

During my 20s and 30s, there were a few consistent materials of Self that I made use of: alcohol, chaos, and movement.

Removing these qualities has been less like  wrecking ball demolition and more like decay. One brick crumbles, then another…but it has been a slow process of abandonment.

Standing now, I am heavy. No longer defined by these things, but still so filled with their ghosts and swallow nests, ribbon and rotting wood.

“To know who you are, you have to have a place to
come from.”
Carson McCullers,
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Giving up that which once sustained me was essential to survival. It allowed me to grieve the Self that survived hurricane and tornado. There were roads and windstorms. I chased and chased my house, the places that could only reside under the skin.

At 42, I find myself lost in an in-between state, just as my grandmother. A narrowing of definition, the container that once held me has changed. In its place, something else.

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Stone & Water, A. Sato

When I speak to her, Ada Lenora, she tells me her room at the nursing home makes a reasonable home, yet lonely all the same. Photos of my grandfather line the walls and her comfy chair, which accompanied her to the facility, sits like a token in the corner.

We drag our homes alongside us sometimes, unwilling to abandon, unwilling to rebuild. Despite the crumbling walls and fallen beams, it is possible to only see its former beauty.

We are limited by our containers. These homes that collapse make – at best – facsimile selves. I would rather bear the spirit of a tree, dipping my roots in water…quenching the thirst of Self with memory.

Life can ax my limbs but my roots remain.

My last conversation with my grandmother ended with her telling me (as she has told me before) how much she misses my grandfather and how she often expects him to walk in and lean down and give her a kiss as he would do when coming in from the garden.

When I think of my time in Indiana, I think about the trees of my youth: dogwood, tulip, walnut, cherry – their stories contained in leaves, bark, chlorophyll under the nourishing sun. Many of these trees no longer stand.

The last time I was home I sat on the stump of the former cherry tree, planted by my grandfather many years ago. I dug my toes into the loose soil. There under the earth, I hit knuckle-bone of root and breathed in the green humus of life.


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Lands of Exposure

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Indiana Field, A. Sato

“Therefore, the places in which we have experienced day dreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as day-dreams these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all the time.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

When I was a young girl, I used to spend many hours sitting on my grandparents’ porch, gazing at the wide field across the road. The field seemed enormous then – and frighteningly as vast as space itself. I remember a distinct sense of loneliness as I looked across that empty space and watched the sun descend. At the same time, just under the loneliness, a sense of hope, of fullness.

It’s been 6 years since I have been back. The old house is now in the possession of another family. Things, as they do when we age, seem smaller, more contained.

The last time I was there we said goodbye to my grandfather and buried him on the edge of yet another field, familiar as home since the bones of many family members rest there, too.

Before returning to the desert, I sat at the edge of that field, among violets and freshly mowed grass, and breathed in the enormity again, the space that made me feel so small against it.

I was born a child of the woods. Open space, more than the darkness of dense pine stands and overgrown creek beds, seemed to contain the elements of childhood fear: exposure, vulnerability, and enormity. In the woods I was never alone. I was surrounded by brother trees and sister animals – deer, feral dogs, squirrels, cows. In their life was a recognition of my own.

But something happened. I grew to love vastness.

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Creosote Hills, A. Sato

Throughout my adult life, my choices have always led me to the assurance of fields, prairies, deserts – perhaps to finally embrace the price of life, complete vulnerability to it.

As I now gaze across another vast terrain – one of thorn and rock – I still seek that fullness, that hope I felt as a girl on my grandparents’ porch. To meet the emptiness feels like surrendering to something more powerful than my hemmed in perception and fears.

No matter where I am, the edge of a verdant field or beneath a burning sun on blackened rock, there is always space – and in this space, possibilities beyond the imaginings of a girl and the regrets of a woman.

I know what it is I seek there… comfort.


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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!”