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“The word wild is like a gray fox trotting off through the forest, ducking behind bushes, going in and out of sight,” writes poet Gary Snyder in his book Practice of the Wild.

He seems to be saying that what we call “wild” can only be glimpsed, not grasped.

But can it be touched?  Can it touch us?

I wrote a poem about touching the wild long ago as a young mother looking out a window overlooking a barren backyard and high wooden fence.  Beyond the fence in an open field stood three tall dark pine trees , towering against a pale gray sky, leaning slightly, like masts of a sailing ship, tacking windward.

I must have felt isolated, in a new home, a new neighborhood, where I knew no one, an infant asleep in the next room, a long, lonely, cold-dreary day before me.

Staring out at those pines, “leaning like lords” as I put it in my poem, I longed for something I glimpsed there but could not quite grasp, something that could free me from whatever it was that seemed to be holding me back. From what, I’m no more sure now than I was then.

Watching those pines– not merely seeing, looking, but watching them intently, intensely, feeling the strength, the vitality, the wildness—I felt not only freer, but fuller—nourished, perhaps. Something I “touched” out there struck a chord that vibrated within, as I wrote in this simple poem:

Watching Winter Pines

A fence stands

‘tween me and wintry pines

That lean like lords against the paler skies.

The pines and fields

A wilder, greener grow,

Taller, farther than my fence could ever let me go.

I stand apart

And let the freer pines

Cast a carefree image upon these careful eyes.

Behind a fence

I touch a freer chord,

When touching wintry pines that lean like lords.

What’s amazing to me in hindsight is that those pines weren’t really “wild.”  They weren’t indigenous to the area at all.  The field beyond the fence wasn’t a nature preserve, or even a green space between housing developments.  It was just undeveloped land set aside beneath the flight path of a nearby airport.  Nor was there anything especially beautiful, or free, or wild about the trees.  Yet some sense of the “wild” I glimpsed within those pines called out to and re-animated something “wild” within me.

Nature is everywhere. We can’t escape it. And so too perhaps is the “wildness” within things, what the artist Auguste Rodin identified as an animating spirit:

“Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit of which Nature herself is animated.”  And which animates us.

Perhaps poet e.e.cummings put it best:

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),

It’s always our self we find in the sea.”

Or a tree.

A bird.

A fox flitting in and out of view. . . .

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