The birch tree in my backyard doesn’t look too impressive. It’s not old, nor is it large. In fact, it’s even missing its third trunk, which broke years ago during a tremendous spring storm. But to me it is special. It reminds me of the canoe country of northeastern Minnesota, which has been my home away from home for most of my life.
This birch in my backyard is no less wild than the birches I have seen in the wilderness. When I look at it, I can almost see rolling waters and rugged shores, almost hear the mournful cries of loons.
We often draw hard and fast distinctions between wild things and domestic, romanticizing wildness and contrasting it to our own everyday experience. But “wild” does not mean free of human contact–as if humans are inherently unnatural!
And if you insist on that definition, then I would say there is no longer any such thing on earth as wildness, for there is no place left in the world that is untouched by humans. Even the seldom visited locations of the world are affected by global pollution and by the climatic changes we are causing.
I remember nights in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, gazing up at the stunning Milky Way, when my reverie was interrupted by the tiny white dot of a satellite silently slipping through the darkness. Was that the end of wildness for those nights? No, just a momentary distraction from my stargazing.
the wildness in our midst
This birch tree in my backyard lives in the same way as birches in the canoe country wilderness. It has more pollution to deal with, certainly, but that does not keep it from staying true to its essential nature. Whether its seeds take root in the heart of a great city or deep in the wilderness, it is and always will be itself.
The world teaches us to distrust our essential nature. It conditions us to distrust our very selves and to seek meaning and purpose primarily through productivity and consumption. We are valued not for our being, but for our doing
And we wonder why we are restless; we wonder why we don’t feel satisfied.
We have allowed ourselves to become so domesticated, in a sense, that we find it hard even to recognize the presence of wildness in our midst.
Wildness lives where you do. Not only in your neighborhood. Not only in your yard.
It is in you.
To learn this, accept this, and follow its implications is to become your true self.
Any birch tree could tell you that.
Photo: The birch tree in my backyard.
This post best fits in the gold part of the singing wilderness spiritual road map, because it relates to truth.