By Hearth Moon Rising
We need the tonic of wildness – to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable…
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I am lucky enough to live in a place of wildness, a place that is defined and defended as “forever wild,” with one of the longest and most intense conservation histories in the United States. This is the Adirondack Park, six million acres of mountain, lake, and forest preserve located in upstate New York. It is larger than the state of New Jersey, larger than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Everglades, and Glacier National Parks put together. It is a place of maple forests, boreal forests, alpine mountain zones, rivers, lakes, and swamplands. Here I have tracked the mink to her icy fishing hole and spotted the slender bittern along the riverbank. Here I can commune with the many animals who help create my magic and immerse myself in the world I call my “library.” I am a lucky woman.
I also pay a price for where I live, in the inconvenience of having to drive fifty miles or more to conduct business, in reworking plans several times a year to accommodate snowstorms, in cabin fever during long cold winters where the nighttime temperature can be thirty below zero or colder. Since this is a wilderness area there are few roads, and visiting the most idyllic places can mean walking miles along rugged trails.
None of this matters once you’re up top. I remember one summer day when I was peak-bagging, pulling in over twenty miles in a day, when I stopped for half an hour at Lake Tear of the Clouds to watch a pair of loons paddling. Loons are fun to watch because they stay under water so long. They dive below the surface and you make guesses with yourself where they will reappear. The waters of Lake Tear, which is as etheric as its name, will become the Hudson River and eventually flow into New York Harbor. Most people in that city will never see this place.
Wildness is a journey, a chance to step out of the predictable controlled environment in order to smile at the unexpected. It doesn’t matter that the perimeters are defined; what is within cannot be catalogued and can only be experienced. Wildness carries a cost of admission. For me the cost of a more difficult (though rewarding) life; for others the cost of scheduling and travel. Whether for a day or a week or a month, most people find the effort worthwhile, and for some of us…we need this tonic.
Hearth Moon Rising is the author of Invoking Animal Magic: A Guide for the Pagan Priestess. She blogs at hearthmoonblog.com.