My life as a child is manicured.
Everything is trimmed, tucked in, and shaped into correct form. Bushes lining flower beds and driveways are pruned at right angles. Identical split level ranches sit in rows of straight streets.
I long to roam pine-covered forest floors and wildflower-filled fields, but there are none. And nobody seems bothered.
Instead, I tread concrete walks and asphalt streets. Chain link fences forbid rambling. Grasses and shrubs beyond their grasp are gulped by cranes and shoved aside by bulldozers preparing ground for new houses.
I am seven and discover a small untamed spot of soil between my Long Island home and bordering flower bed bushes. There, leaves and pine needles fall and lie undisturbed. I sneak off the side of the front porch, crawl along the corridor of dirt between the living room window and bushes and sit beneath the pink dogwood within. As I trace lines in the cool, moist dirt, inspect decaying leaves and collect unevenly shaped stones, my mind is awakened by a muse, weaving rhymes and rhythms of life.
Mom calls me for dinner. I am rattled from my reverie; my senses are zapped by buzzing wires overhead feeding the hum and whistle of the dishwasher. Talk around the table is worlds from me.
There is something within us beyond what we are exposed to or trained to think, which longs for what we never see but know is possible.
I’m 11 and visiting Garvey’s Point Museum. My spirit stirs as I sit with classmates on cushioned chairs in a darkened room gaping at a lighted screen. There upon glimmer images of Native American Indians molding clay, weaving leaves, and carving wood. In the next room, I pore over glass-enclosed miniature villages displaying native women wrapped in cloths bending by moving water, the men rowing past in wooden canoes.
I ruminate over pictures of bare feet on soil in bent branched wigwams on expansive terrain as I am carried away in a clanking, hissing bus. I stare out dusty windows scanning for green — signs of life. I cringe at barbed wire fences and red and white for-sale signs encaging the few wild spots I see. And too many words, glaring neon Super Mart and flashing Shop ‘n’ Save, imposing thoughts, cold and lifeless.
There is some knowing we bring from the world beyond when we arrive, which longs to be born or resurrected on earth.
Another empty lot of nettles and oak is converted to sidewalk and stores. Beyond the busyness and bustle, I find a green corridor of wooded hills gleaming with light.
At thirty-five, I roam through matted leaves and layered pine needles, taking my daily respite. I leap between bushes and trees, twirl and gaze up at canopy-laced skies, duck and sit beneath caves of leafy undergrowth. Away from the man made world, I encounter emptiness, rife with creation. My soul settles, sorting thoughts of the day, discovering meaning and balance. Gathered, I return to daily life.
All summer, I swim in the Long Island Sound. From a wooded path in a nature preserve, I view the wide blue expanse beyond waves of sand. I remove my sandals, dig in my toes and walk to wade in the luscious cool. Diving beneath the bouncing surface I swim deep invigorated and free. I imagine Native Americans doing the same. I slip off my bathing suit to join them.
There are ways and doings that do not exist now, which we know have been and can be again.
I am fifty-two, driving down U.S. 41 in Sarasota, Florida. Store after store to horizon bombard my senses — products for every need. One could get to thinking this is all life offers and forgo essential nourishment. My soul thirsts for the sustenance of wild places. I turn on the radio to feed my mind. Folks in Los Angeles are trying to create a corridor for cougars to roam; only few can thrive in the space now allotted. I wonder, How many square miles of wilderness do humans need?
I drive to Celery Fields hill in east Sarasota to get my fill. In the twenties, the wetlands were dredged. Farmland was formed and celery was grown. In 1992, the soil depleted, heavy rains sent water from the fields to Phillippi Creek flooding nearby homes. The county bought the land to restore it to marshland for this is where the water wants to go.
The mound I wander is the pile of muck removed, sown with native trees and grasses. I sight fields to the horizon. I gaze down on saw grass and sandpipers dotting pools of water. Birders prop binoculars to spy hundreds of species that have returned. With pulsing-limbs and eager eyes, a full-bodied boy darts up the slope. I smile and wonder about the youngsters I teach who can’t sit still, focus or understand concepts such as before and after. I pray he and they find the wild space they need to learn and grow.
Sometimes society labels us defective because we cannot thrive in its constructs, which are inhospitable and need reform.
I am fifty-four, sitting again with classmates watching the film Urban Roots in Fogartyville Café. We gather at this Transition Sarasota presentation to learn how folks are coping with changing times. I stare at images of modern Detroit. Acres of once bustling manufacturing plants and apartment buildings sit barren, silent. Light beams through holes. Dandelions grow in ruins. Officials grapple with reviving the city. The hopeless languish with no livelihood. Then turn to the soil, drop seeds and grow food. Barriers broken, once isolated folks join to share fruits and vegetables, tools and methods — seeds of hope.
What seems like a tragedy becomes a remedy. Human constructs collapse. Unaware of resources beyond our making, we grasp to hold together the world once known. But it is a tumbling tower dropping us to grounds that we have neglected, lost touch. Leaving us to paths we have rejected, forgotten.
Life that has murmured on despite our makings, greets us still.