There was a large tree in the woods behind my parent's house. It rose above the other trees and was my favorite. There were summer days before dusk when I would retreat to that tree. I'd scale its branches to the top, looking out over a canopy of foliage. I'd close my eyes and listen to the breeze dance through the leaves. Sitting securely in my wooded loft, I'd feel the tree gently sway back and forth. It was so calm and peaceful.
One time I was beside the tree when a doe emerged out of the brush. She slowly came towards me. I stood motionless beside the tree trunk, knowing that any movement would startle her. The doe walked within a yard of me, stopping to sniff and flit her large ears back and forth. She surely caught my scent but didn't seem to see me. The encounter was exhilarating.
Stand by me
I was reminded of that moment later in life, when I saw the movie Stand By Me. The film is a tender coming of age story based on Stephen King's novella The Body. There's a scene in the movie when one of the boys, named Gordie, is apart from his friends. Gordie encounters a doe that crosses by him on some railroad tracks.
Gordie decides not to tell his companions about the deer he came across. A creative boy, he realizes the others will not understand or entirely appreciate what he felt. It's a beautiful scene in the movie and one I related to from my own deer encounter.
Experiencing such close proximity to nature touches you. It's not really the call of the wild so much as a whisper. Something on a deep, primal nature glides serenely into your presence. It's like all the energy and mystery of life takes a moment to greet you. To remind you that there's so much more than what's presently in your head. There's so much beauty and hopefulness out there, if we only slow down enough to see it. To experience it.
In this technological age of smart phones, computers, travel and rushing about, it's easy to disconnect from nature. We relax in front of bright screens, at wine parties or BBQ's. We might book a vacation on some caribbean beach. Maybe even slow the pace, play in the water and feel the sand. But soon we're back at it. Making appointments, answering texts, getting ahead.
Nothing wrong with making a living. And there's a lot of satisfaction in being ambitious and realizing the fruit of your labors. Some are even questioning the whole work/life balance thing as a hoax. They say it's "just life." Don't try to bifurcate it. It will just stress you out. Work and play as you please. But I think it's important to unplug. To make time for nature. For fresh air and quiet reflection.
Do yourself a favor and watch the movie Phenomenon, staring John Travolta and the amazing Robert Duvall. Travolta plays a small town auto mechanic named George Malley. In the film, something happens to George Malley that makes him a genius with telekinetic powers. The film explores the untapped power of the human mind, as well as the notion that all living things are somehow connected.
Reference is made in the movie to the largest living organism on the planet. Whales come to mind but actually it's an aspen grove in Colorado. The movie alludes to an eastern notion that we are all connected in some cosmic way. In one scene, George Malley explains to two children that "everything is on its way to somewhere...everything." Other scenes in the film show trees gently swaying in the breeze, invoking a peaceful sort of serenity. Much like I felt in the trees behind my parent's home.
I mention the movie Phenomenon and my own treetop experiences because I think there's something to this. I've felt it while painting the cottonwoods in Idaho. And above the cliffs near Carmel, California. Whenever I escape the trappings of modernity and get outdoors in nature, I begin to relax. I slowly start to feel a peaceful calm permeate my being. Time slows down. It seems to nourish my soul and restore my spirit.
The whisper of innocence
When we look at a baby deer or newborn child we see their innocence. Their promise. Their perfection. Before all the bumps, bruises and scars of life. Retreating back into nature is like hiking back to a time of innocence. Maybe the perfection of nature reminds us of our own divine perfection? Beneath the layers of life's unwanted incursions, disappointments, pain and suffering. Perhaps the fresh air, grand mountains and windswept shorelines recalibrate our spirit and tease out a bit of our better selves?
I think the call of the wild is really the whisper of innocence. Calling us home. To a place so far away and yet so familiar. To a feeling that comforts us, like a warm blanket.
I need to make more time for this. I need to pack my paintbox, a few supplies and go. Drive down the coast and hike into some hidden grove. Commune for awhile with the birds, squirrels, trees and the grandeur of nature.
I need to make it more of a priority, this simple outdoor gift that life has bestowed upon us. And my hope is that these words will inspire you, too. Wherever you are in your life, to figure out how to get outside and restore your spirit. It's a simple investment that costs nothing but time. I'll wager it will pay dividends in your life. Dividends that will heal your weary heart, renew your passion for life, and reacquaint you with the person you always dreamed of becoming.