At the end of my day today, I was blessed by the sight of a fox, magnificent in her wildness and independence, who loped across my office parking lot. She looked at me as if she had come out into civilization just for me, and then continued on into the nearby woods. For most women I know, these moments when we experience our sisterhood with the Earth are essential expressions of our spiritual selves. We are renewed, inspired, and reborn in forests, oceans, and mountains.
But, not all women are able to experience wild places first hand. Some of us live in cities and suburbs and do not have the time or money to go on retreats or vacations in nature. Perhaps our responsibilities to children or elder parents keep us at home. Maybe we or a spouse are in the military and we cannot choose where we will live. Perhaps we must dwell in a place whose landscape and neighbors make us depressed and afraid. Even though I live close to natural places, the schedule of my obligations to others means that I am fortunate if I spend an hour or two a week in a truly wild place.
I was lucky – I found my perfect home when I was in my 20s, and it was not in nature. I moved to New York City because of my fantasies of a literary life and instead found a connection to our planet, a place where I felt perfectly at home. I felt embraced by the skyscrapers. I loved the hard, straight lines of the sidewalks. Surrounded by six million people all living their lives as they wished, I was never lonely and always perfectly free to be myself and as individual and arty as I chose.
But it wasn’t only the human culture of New York City that I loved, but also the spirit of the place. If forests are earthy, and oceans watery, and the plains and deserts full of air, New York City was, to me, fire. I became convinced that somehow nature and humanity had co-created the spirit of this place so that it was more than wildness and more than humanness, something uniquely both—powerful, beautiful, and full of life. It seeped up from the concrete and out of the rock walls of the skyscrapers, oozed from the brick tenement buildings, vibrated with the steps of the inhabitants. I left 20 years ago and only really went back for a couple of visits recently and I felt it again; it was like meeting an old friend.
I learned from those years in NYC how to connect to nature, to the land, even when you are not in wildness; to not just exist till you can return to a natural place for rejuvenation, but to bask in the spirit of where you are, whether by choice or necessity. I began by expanding my idea of “nature” to include not just places that were wild, but everywhere on Earth, to see the “wildness” wherever I was. Part of doing this is seeing humans as “wild,” too, as part of the landscape and what they create as “wild” if it truly represents some core element of themselves. So, a painting or poem or building or park is an element of nature if it is an expression of that which is “wild” within us.
Of course, this isn’t always easy if where you live is not particularly attractive and doesn’t blend in with the landscape. I lived in a fifth floor walk-up which, 20 years ago, was basic housing at its most basic. The only two windows looked out on the brick wall of the building next door. The only time I was in the building and experienced nature was when I would go on the roof and look up at the sky. I had no choice but to live there because it was all I could afford. So, I expressed the spirit of the place through paint—I painted a bright red fire in the fireplace, matching the crimson rug on the floor, and the walls were a bright “Van Gogh” green and yellow. My wall decorations and bookshelf statues were colorful and full of life. My one living/bedroom was my temple to the spirit of my Beautiful City.
I also connected to the wildness of where I lived by immersing myself in other’s expressions of how they perceived its spirit, whether through art or literature or history or stories from the original people who had lived there. Over time, I built up my own “mythology” about the place, with some places becoming “sacred” to me and creating stories out of my own experiences that illustrated the magic that I perceived there. By the time I left, many buildings and parks had special significance for me and had their own special power.
But, unfortunately, we can’t always be where we feel connected and can easily visualize and celebrate the spirit of a place whether is has wildness or not. I like living in New England. I have, in many ways, done the same process here—finding my own “sacred places,” creating a home that expresses how I perceive the spirit of the place, and trying to feel intuitively what the spirit of the place is like. I have to admit, though, that I am not as at home in New England. The spirit of the place is not one that I feel an essential connection with. The people I love are here, but it is a struggle sometimes to feel as if I am “home” here.
Still, over the years, perhaps New England is not where I would prefer to be, but maybe it is where I need to be. Living in a place where you don’t feel the embrace of nature’s wildness, where you don’t feel simpatico, can also be essential for our growth. I have grown in ways that I may never have had I always stayed in New York City. I have become able to be more solemn, more cynical and less instantly enthusiastic, more likely to struggle to let my intellect be quiet so my spirit can create. I have expanded and added many more notes to my life’s symphony.
At the same time, I have shifted my focus from being an “artist” to being a “healer.” Even though I may do the same activities, the focus or purpose of them is to heal myself, or others, or the earth, rather than simple self-expression. Part of this is growing older and experiencing more, but I also think that some of it is absorbing the more somber history of New England and experiencing the harshness of nature’s face here.
If you live in a place where you feel less connected, sometimes you have to make the first move, be the first to reach out a hand to your new home in acknowledgement of the fact that it is nourishing you, even with only gravity, and despite the fact that it may not feel connected to you, either. By coincidence, I moved to my new home at a time when there was an intense battle going on to preserve the purity of a nearby body of water. I joined in the fray and, by showing my dedication to my new home, I began to feel aligned and as if I somehow came to better understand the landscape by committing myself to its preservation. While the land I was fighting for was “wild,” I think that the same would be true of a place that was urban also. So often the way to spiritual connection is action.
Perhaps a world where humans only lived in places in perfect harmony with and surrounded by nature would be ideal. Maybe that will be what the world will be like in the future. But, for billions of people, that is not the reality of their lives. They choose to or must live in urban or suburban environments that may, or may not, have natural beauty. To broaden our understand of “the wild” brings millions of people into the human-wilderness circle who might otherwise feel left out, thus making us feel part of nature, too, and deepening our commitment to it. At the same time, it affirms the web of connection between all beings and all places on earth. Can any place not be “natural” in some sense if it is still on the Earth? By finding the “wildness” in a slab of concrete sidewalk, we commit ourselves to making every place on Earth its own kind of nurturing, free, beautiful, vibrant landscape and honoring the connection of all beings to the earth, wherever they may live.
While I commend your intent and efforts and ability to love the wildness of the city I confess I can in no way relate to it. I have never lived in a big city and feel like a fish out of water in even a small city of no more than a couple hundred thousand. I’ve always thought and felt concrete, while necessary, to be one of the coldest, hardest, ugliest of man’s creations. It feels dead to me, deader than any natural rock which vibrates with the hum of creation. And as cities are mostly made up of concrete they feel alien, dead and unnatural to me. That said, you have given me hope that, should I ever venture into a big city, I might, maybe, possibly be able to survive it.
Thank you for your perspective! I always enjoy reading the many points of view that those who comment bring – that’s one of the great things about blogs — and I thank you for your comment!
I feel the same way about NYC. It has its own heartbeat. I loved the time I was there, I loved riding the subway, walking the streets, the people at the hole-in-the-wall groceries and pizza makers. I loved getting lost and then getting myself found!
I also know that I needed the balance of the peacefulness of Owl’s Head Park on a daily basis to even out the fire and pulse of the city….too much of a good thing is….well…..too much!
I hadn’t thought of it as having its own heartbeat, but that is exactly right! I’ve never been to Owl’s Head Park — I’ll look it up next time I’m there. I did just discover The Brooklyn Botanical Garden — an amazing place! Thank you for your comment!
What a lovely post! And I identify whole-heartedly. I live in the heart of Chicago, and I, too, have to broaden and shift my perspective about what is wild. But sharpening my eyes and opening my heart has made all the difference.
I’m glad you liked it! I lived in the Chicago area for awhile and loved that city, too. It has a strength that is just amazing.
One of my best friends lives in Brooklyn and has lived in NYC for about ten years now. I’ve visited her on several occasions and came to detest NYC. I hated the skyscrapers and having to crane my neck to see the sky, though I did love the international aspect and walking down the street hearing 6 different languages and visiting all the little shops and restaurants. Reading your description and perspective of NYC being fire makes a great deal of sense to me. I much prefer, though, my time of living in Paris where it is very much a city, but where the skyscrapers are exiled to a single corner and the rest of the city operates under an ordinance in which buildings aren’t permitted to be more than 8 stories. If NYC is fire, I think Paris is water. Now I live just outside Atlanta and an interstate runs right in front of my apartment complex. Still, the other side of my little neighborhood is lined with trees and a forest, and I’ve taken to walking there and reconnecting with that earth energy I so desperately need some times. Thank you for your eloquent post and perspective!
Paris! What a wonderful place to live! I would love to hear more of your thoughts about that city that so many have found inspiration in. I envy you living near Atlanta – I know someone else who does and her description of all the things she can grow in the warmer climate always makes me want to move there!
Cool blog, Care!!!!
Thanks, Ian! I’m so glad you liked it!
Carolyn, I loved this post about New York City. What’s more is I loved having you visit here and our get-together for brunch in the beautiful garden of that restaurant. Please come back soon!
And I so appreciate your acquainting me with the joys of your neighborhood! I would love to come back, VERY soon!
Paris is truly magickal 🙂 I am so grateful I was able to live there for a while. I love talking about it, but I don’t want to hijack your post here. If you’d like, shoot me an email (I’ve listed it on my contact page of my blog, but it’s listed cryptically, so if you’re not able to decipher it, let me know, and we’ll figure something out!). Big hugs to you, lady!
I don’t mind you talking about Paris at all — I love discussions and if they move away from the original topic, well, that’s what discussions are supposed to do! But I did find your address and send an email, too!
What a fascinating post–and comments. Though I’m a native of NYC, I never felt a spiritual identity with it. Moved away when I was a baby, but visited relatives there often growing up. The only place I remember feeling deeply moved by is a park on W. 175-176 St and I think Broadway. Do you know it? Used to play there when a child. I liked the big rocks and the plaza overlooking the Hudson. (There’s a playground too, but the slide freaked me out.) Tried to live in NYC again after college. Didn’t like it at all! Haven’t been back in years although still on East Coast (DC). New England, however, I feel more in my element there. Love Nantucket. Like Boston area. When I visited Salem, I felt very much at home there (oh gee, I wonder why….). Sometimes I fastasize about retiring in or near Salem, but relatives in Boston area tell me its quite expensive.
I lived and worked downtown — the East Village and City Hall area, respectively — so didn’t tend to get that far north that often (though I loved the Cloisters) so I don’t know the park. But I do know there are wonderful parks all over the City. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is amazing, if you ever do get back to NYC.
I will admit that Salem does have a wonderful spirit and I do love to just wander the streets and pop into the shops and museums. (And, here’s my confession, I have always had a crush on brooding, creative, handsome Nathanial Hawthorne even if he was immensely jealous of the more successful women writers of his time.) I imagine that Salem itself is rather expensive, but I bet that some of the smaller towns nearby might be more affordable. It would be great to have you move up here!
Well, time will tell….I wrote a poem with allusions to Hawthorne, published in the April 2001 issue of Facets. This will probably get you there:
I love that poem! You really do know a lot about Hawthorne! Thanks for the link! And I hope you do get to move up here!
hi caroline…i’ve just popped in, and now i have to pop out without reading this…but i’m coming back because She is calling me here…
I look forward to having you pop back in when you can!
A really interesting post. I was born and raised in Wyoming…well I say my roots went down in Wyoming but the flower came up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I have only lived in “cities” less than 100,000 and now I don’t even live in a city or town. I have about 13 neighbors and a dirt road, although the highway is about a block away.
This post, though, gave me an insight into you who live in the big cities. I see these cities and I just can’t imagine why anyone would want to live there, but your post has helped me understand those who do.
I have lived in the mountains long enough now that I try every excuse not to go down to our nearest “city” for anything. This is not necessarily a good thing…I need to force myself to get out of my lair!
I do feel some resentment towards people from the big cities. Many that I have had the honor to meet seem to think if you live in the mountains and are not close to the real world of city living, you are not too smart. Hillbilly. Hick.
So, I guess that might be karma coming back on me. But I will open my mind and heart to those of you in the metropolis’s. I hope you can return the favor.
Mitakuye Oyasin (we are all related)
That’s too bad that people stereotype others based on where they live, but I know it happens. I actually moved out of the city and now live in a semi-rural area, too. I’ve never been to the west but I would love to go – I would love to see Wyoming and South Dakota – they both seem like wonderful places. I’ve always dreamed of living in the mountains, too. Thanks so much for your comment!