"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wild Samantha

Women often describe themselves based on which Sex and the City character they are most like.  The four women provide a fairly accurate sampling of female archetypes to choose from.  Over the years, I have identified with everyone but Samantha.

As a writer, I have always had a bit of Carrie in me.  Like her, I write to analyze my life and ask why people behave as they do.  Like her, I have made questionable relationship choices in the past, despite my desperate desire to cultivate a healthy, lasting one.  (Getting rid of Aidan, anyone?  How stupid can you be?)  I also, unfortunately, spent some time as a smoker in the past, and I am still a lover of my own, funky sense of style.  Yes, I love me some Carrie Bradshaw.

The successful career I have been grateful to build has given me a point of identification with Miranda as well.  She has gotten several promotions and knows how to work with her money.  She complains that men are often intimidated by her power.  I get that.

The last time I was actually watching and following the show was probably four years ago.  At that time, I was most like Charlotte.  I wanted a kind, strong man and a family.  I was borderline obsessed with babies, and I spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to look "pretty."  Like Charlotte, I have gone to some ridiculous lengths trying to score a permanent man situation.

Samantha, however, has always annoyed me.  She avoided commitment, shunned marriage, and laughed at her friends' endless relationship dramas.  She flitted from man to man (and sometimes woman), flirting, having fun, and collecting attention.  She lived alone.  I judged her as shallow, fake, and lonely.

Last night, my housemates had Sex and the City on TV, and I sat down to half-watch it while I was eating dinner.  I was shocked at what I noticed.  I related to almost every line of Samantha's, and Charlotte annoyed the snot out of me!  It was like I was watching a whole different show, except it wasn't the show that had changed, it was me.

I saw Charlotte as clingy, needy, and stuck in one co-dependent relationship after another.  I thought she was trying to use babies to distract her from the fact that she isn't the strong woman that she knows she can be.  I wanted to scream at her to rip off that pretty little dress and get dirty in the woods.  What I had previously storied as authenticity now looked like insecurity.

Samantha, on the other hand, suddenly seemed so strong to me.  She owns her life.  She belongs to no one.  She does what she wants, when she wants, with whom she wants.  She doesn't look back in regret.  She laughs in the face of upset.  She doesn't need anyone to "complete" her, yet she enjoys intimacy and connection with many along the way.  What I had previously storied as shallow now looked like strength. 

The thing that will never change about me is my tendency to change.  I'm sure that I will make many more rounds of these and other female archetypes.  I enjoy trying them on like costumes; walking around, seeing how they fit.  This Samantha archetype has been stuffed in the back of my closet for many years, gathering nothing but dust and scornful looks from me.  I think it's time to take it out and wear it around town for a bit, don't you?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wild Food

What it is about farmer's markets that makes me feel wild?  They do not offer wild animals, big mountains, unexpected dangers or adventures.  They take place in suburbia, which is the environment that is most antithetical to wildness.  Suburbia is planned, landscaped, safe, and sanitized.  I often hear jokes about farmer's markets being the required accoutrement for trendy, hip, white people.  I am aware of this stereotype as I pull up to the market in my high-efficiency car covered in love-the-world bumper stickers, step out in my crocs and ripped jeans, and tote my reusable shopping bag and patchwork hippie purse from stall to stall.

This is the first time I have been to my local farmer's market in months, simply due to busy weekend plans.  I have been looking forward to this Sunday opportunity all week.  I am surprised to notice my bodily reaction as I finally arrive at my anticipated destination.  The sight of piles of fresh green beans and barrels of awkwardly-shaped eggplants spilling over stops my breath in my chest.  I feel my feet grounded to the earth and I have the urge to roll in the tomatoes (I don't).  I hear the bluegrass band harmonica wafting from the other side of the market, and a little girl with huge eyes hurls a grimy hand blindly up to a table above her head to swipe a cucumber.  I smile and hug myself a bit in the chilly, early Autumn air.

Perhaps my feeling of wildness actually comes from the knowledge that I am right in the middle of un-wild suburbia.  Something feels slightly rebellious about these "blemished" apples and thin, crooked carrots.  As if the carrot is jabbing itself out into the world with a "Take that, produce section!  I will NOT grow perfectly round and fat for you!  These are my curves and divots and I love them."

Or take, for instance, these crazy things:
Have you ever seen them?  Me either, until today.  I stood puzzled over this bin for a few moments before asking the farmer what they are. 

He replied, "Paw-paws.  They are a local fruit that Native Americans used to grow."  His eyes glinted and he picked one up to show me.  "Feel this."  I do.  "See how soft it is?"  I nod.  "This one will taste like vanilla custard."  He closes his eyes for a moment as if lost in a private fantasy.  I shift a bit uneasily, waiting for him to return to me.  His eyes pop open.  "You just slice the skin open and let it slip off gently.  Then scoop out the line of seeds and eat the rest with a spoon."  He presents it to me like a treasured gift that he has made just for me.  I take it.

"How come I've never seen them at the supermarket?"  I ask, a little worried that this might be a stupid question.

He laughs.  "You'll never see these at Safeway!  They don't ship well.  Best to just pluck them off the tree and let them get soft on your kitchen table for a few days."

And that is when I get that familiar, chest-tingly feeling of wildness - the same one I get when I have an unexpected wildlife encounter in the forest; like I am in the presence of something holy.  This fruit is all about the moment.  Nevermind shipping across the world like bananas or mangoes.  This round, squishy teacher forces us to eat her right where she grew.  She refuses to have it any other way.

Go on with your wild self, you crazy paw-paw you!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wild Progress

I am clinging to a rock face at Great Falls, VA.  The tip of my left foot is wedged into a tiny crevice where it doesn't really fit, resulting in my ankle being twisted at a painful, unnatural angle - but I have to keep it there until I figure out what to do next.  My right foot has no hold; it is flagging onto the rock (just lying flat against it for balance).  My right fingers are barely clinging to a thin ledge far out to my right.  My left hand has no choice but to fist jam into a deep crack, bringing a bit of blood to my knuckles and squashing a few stink bugs and spiders.

In this moment, I notice that there are people watching me.  Some from behind, up on top of the ledge by the trail.  They have stopped with their cameras and are taking pictures of me.  More across the river on the Maryland side.  They are pointing with one hand and putting their other hand over their open mouths, shaking their heads.  Looking at me.

I have a fleeting memory of being one of those people.  A few years ago, I hiked the Great Falls trail and saw some rock-climbers dangling precariously from ropes, dancing up what looked like feature-less flat rock, much like I am doing now.  I held my breath in awe and admiration at their bravery and skill.  I was jealous.  I wanted that kind of skill; that kind of adventure.  I had no idea how to even begin to think about how to get onto a rock face like that.

Hanging here now, I don't know if I could even re-trace the steps that led me from that trail as a spectator to this rope with rock under my fingers.  I know that what happened between that moment and this one was a lot of growth, a lot of chaos, and a lot of humility.  It was less about strength and more about saying "Screw it.  I have no idea what to do."

After several more pushes, grunts, and questionable hand-jams, I make it to the top.  The people behind me on the trail clap, as do my friends below.  I beam with a sweaty, gratified smile.  As I sit down to untie myself and take off my climbing shoes, the couple who had been watching approach.  The woman says to me, "I don't know how you do that!  I could never do that."

I look her right in the eye and say, "I don't know how I do it either.  And yes you can."