My friends are avid birders. They carry around their list, and they’re ecstatic when they can identify and check off yet another species. At first it was easy, with many species so close to home. It gets progressively tougher though, and if you don’t have the resources to travel to exotic places, you have to become more strategic, more observant. You come to value more subtle distinctions (how many kinds of sparrow? which one sings that song?) and the pursuit becomes more connected to tuning into your environment and not so much about checking off more boxes.
David Carpenter, a writer I admire, published a fascinating book a few years back about losing his ability to hunt, an activity he had loved since he was a boy. It threw him into a crisis, but gradually he began to sense that his real joy was not so much tracking and killing game, but in disappearing into the vibrant mess of wild places, becoming one among many beings going about their lives.
I am drawn to these people who love wild places, and who love them deeply enough to encounter them on their own terms, with respect and humility. I love wild places too—bush, pastures, country ditches noisy with frogs. Now that I’m a city dweller, I make do with the unkempt edges of my local park. For that matter, my neighbourhood is full of rabbits, and just down the street, deer regularly chew away on shrubs and flowerbeds. I heard recently about a woman in River Heights who had to move her mailbox because a robin was dive-bombing the postal carrier. Wild is everywhere.
Oddly enough, the extraordinary jazz festival concert with Dave Holland, Eric Harland, Chris Potter, and Lionel Loueke got me thinking about the ways we encounter wild things. These four artists connected here for the first time, and after only a couple of rehearsals, they played long, elegant, intricate pieces, each one a sinuous spin of rhythm and colour, exotic and familiar, wild and tame. They didn’t talk—or at least they didn’t use words. They spoke eloquently and powerfully in a musical language that was particular to the four of them, and all of us in the audience—hundreds of us—sat enraptured. Days later, I am still dreaming those sounds.
I felt, in that hall, the way I feel when I’m close enough to look a wild creature in the eye, a kind of giddy excitement that’s hard to articulate. Thrill, wonder, exhilaration, gratitude, an awareness of how ephemeral things actually are…
I think in the long run we are all a combination of cultivated garden and tangled wilderness. Most of us move through lives that are structured and contained in so many ways—we have regular rhythms of food and work and rest, and we attend to obligations that are important to us and to our communities. At the same time, we are powered by cauldrons of emotion that are not at all tidy and predictable, and we chase dreams and ideas that are only half available to our conscious minds.
Being in wild places and being in music feed us in similar ways. Both bring us into deep connection with others and with our own dark energy. Both remind us that tamed and untamed go hand in hand.
Here’s to summer!