No planes cut the air. No phones or televisions murmur. The trees stop appearing ominous. The dogs find no need to bark. Perhaps the strangest of it all is that no one wonders what is occurring. No voices, no faces of concern. In the wild, we tend to stop our motion and empty ourselves of thought or hate or question or enjoyment. We listen to the eternity in the silence and stillness. Time stops—there is only fading light and the shapes in the sky one can peek at through the dense leaf cover. Every detail and every cell gradually becomes vivid, but ultimately is lost to the the greatness of it all, the natural world appearing friendly yet solitary.
But soon, life goes on. The universe moves again outside the forest, suburbia spreading even into the mountains. Molecules collide in the light red pollution that clouds the nighttime sky. Music roars back to life, fingers pressing keys, keys striking strings, strings playing notes, notes forming songs, the songs we have learned pressing against thought and memory. Our bodies, again entranced, move through traffic and loud sounds. This hurried constancy has been normalized, accepted, and rebirthed into what many of us are familiar with as daily life.
Wild places have become a modern fad. As so many of us have accepted an urbanized existence as the norm, jogging trails and small parks interrupting city blocks have become commonplace. Granted, this view of nature as secondary to urban sprawl does not take into account living in a metropolitan area to seek a greater quality of life; rather, it points out the apathetic experience that arises secondary to being apart from nature for long periods.
Moreover, it highlights the fact that wild places have become commodified and even
commercialized. Running a trail to gain the meditative experience of existing as one with the old-growth pine groves is no longer the reality of many people’s experiences with exercise; jogging has become a health trend, an activity used to perpetuate the idea that certain lifestyles are superior to others. The deep connection with the natural world is inevitably erased when one becomes fixated on the necessity of healthful behavior. Contemporary camping out is seen as spending a weekend by the lake accompanied by amenities such as running water and power outlets so one can use one’s laptop when it gets dark outside.
Feeling disappointed in the city and how difficult it seems to carve out meaningful moments out of so much substance is not enough. We make do with what we have access to; however, not every person starts at the same point. Those of us who have been, and are, fortunate enough to have opportunities to connect with the wild are at an advantage. We are aware of the life we can acquire from the outdoors and cherish it. Being in nature allows us to move like we want to, ignored by the rest of the world, timeless in the rhythm, expectant and fulfilled. We decide to stop being so human for a while and break. But have we simply learned to apply the same tactics we have adopted in order to counter metropolitan circularity to our time spent in solitude, apart from the very thing that elicits such a foreign reaction in so many of us?
We engage in a method of zoning out which is, ultimately, protective. We close our ears and eyes to escape the din of the city, the noise of the traffic and of the thousands of bodies moving around us, alongside us, at all times. Through the acquisition of a more robust inner solitude, we become more able to survive under such cacophony. Nevertheless, this ability can be viewed as a double-edged sword. We become enthralled in our mentalscape’s constant soundtrack, humming with the energy we absorb from our daily environment. Extended are the ways in which we turn away, tune out, shut down. One might imagine returning to human’s place of origin would counter the effects of this 21st century mental madness, but a paradox exists within: in disengaging from so many facets of the natural world, we have become attuned to viewing the wild as a temporary sanctuary, a resting place for a weekend afternoon or a day off. The briefness of these interactions cannot, and will not, suffice.
by Rachel Eager '17