A lone wolf howls on a rocky crag overlooking a wilderness extending as far as the eye can see, whilst birds of prey circle overhead. Mountain streams gush down rocky gullies pooling into desolate icy lakes edged with massive boulders and lightning-struck firs. It’s an unexplored land where survival is doubtful except for the hardiest creatures who still struggle to survive. Or the vision may be a desert canyon, one of a vast range, as yet unexplored, where the only green in sight, marks, in the valleys, where the water flows at certain times of year, providing sustenance for spiny shrubs and cottonwood trees, before it dries up, and an unrelenting sun bakes the red soil into a crazy paving craving moisture, but getting none. Home of the vulture, the scorpion and the snake, but no friend to man. Or it may be standing on a deserted rocky coastline in the very pulsing heart of the night, where the wind is whipping up the waves, as a storm brews, while breakers smash the shore in a perpetual rhythm filling the very air with surround sound while the silver light from the moon shivers on a shifting ocean.
One of these images should work for you, as they certainly do for me and you’ll no doubt have your own imaginings of the wild. Here in Scotland we have the majestic highlands, lochs and great glens and the western isles with deserted coves and cotton grass which grows on the barren moorlands, and a few deliciously overgrown and collapsing castle ruins, claimed by nature and undisturbed by man. But as long as there is space, no people present, and the land goes on as far as the eye can see, then I’m in a happy place. There were a few moments this week when I felt moved by this freedom, and it’s really what the Romantic movement was all about, that is the art, music and literature movement prevalent between 1800 to 1850, which I’ve touched on before. Romanticism sought a feeling of the sublime in nature – meaning awe-inspiring, spiritually uplifting feelings, a transcendence promoting deep veneration and a stirring of the blood. And nowhere better to focus on than the unexplored wildernesses, to relish the power and glory of nature.
It seems we humans are drawn to such places, why else the call of man/woman to boldly go where no man has gone before (thank you, Star Trek!) There are books like Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, about the travel lust of Chris McCandless, who may have been influenced by writer, Jack London, or philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, but who’s love for nature prematurely ended his life. There are more recent films like The Revenant and Wild, pitting man against nature, or operating as a rite of passage respectively and then there are the survival narratives and films which are such compelling viewing for many of us. Man against nature, who will win?
But what’s it all about? Why do we want to follow the path that hides out of view, to find out where it goes, then pursue the next hidden bend and then the next? Or follow that bit of wilderness to the horizon only to be met with another tantalising skyline that draws us on? Or the need to get to the summit of that mountain risking life and limb? This is the essence of man’s need to explore, but what is going on and what do we get out of it?
What is the call of the wild or the call of the land all about?
- Well, there’s the use of nature to explore one’s deeper sense of self. To be emptied of all that you know and just experience a stillness, a connection with the environment as it is, right then and there, with the surface layers of ‘you’ stripped away to the bone. To find your spiritual core. The emptiness and lack of relational reactivity of a wilderness seems conducive to this. And if it’s conducive to this, I feel it must be conducive to looking after the ‘creative’ you to dip into it now and again, to seize the opportunity if it’s presented.
Here are a few personal views of some intrepid trekkers talking about how the wilderness made them feel more complete in this way, more at one with themselves. I particularly like Anna’s last comment ‘Most of all, I realized that you can go into the wilderness, and you can leave the wilderness, but the wilderness will never leave you.’
- Then there’s the quest: simply to go ‘there’ because it’s there, putting your body and mental stamina to the test, to find out what you’re capable of.
- Curiosity about nature – to see the range of life that lives on this planet. To marvel at nature’s ingenuity, wisdom and balance…to record findings for education in order to respect what we have around us.
- To live life free for a while, free from the restraints of civilization and consumer culture. To get away from the rat race, which seems to bind more and more tightly. To live a simpler life.
- To gain some perspective on our current problems, where the largest problem is rendered small and insignificant in the whole scheme of things.
- To retrieve something primal in us, some traces of homo sapiens DNA, where man ventured into the wild to find a place to call home, to make their very own mark there, untouched by another’s hand, to make a family, to live by one’s wits or to die in the attempt.
The paradox inherent in all the above, is of course, that we may seek solitude, wanting to be the lone wolf in the wilderness, but at the same time we are pack animals, just like the wolf, and need each other to survive. And then gradually in doing so, we have ceased living in harmony with nature and seek to bend it to our will. We litter it, we dump rubbish, we drill into it, we destroy species, and the wild places become less and less, while we ‘grow’ seeking more and more. And we all know that’s where we are in the world of today, despite the valiant efforts of conservationists.
But on a lighter note, for me, creativity lends itself to exploring the wild, within us, and outside of us. We can commune with nature, we can contemplate it for ourselves, let it fill our selves and our spirit, and use this in our creativity. We can howl at the moon if we want to. We can be a lone wolf for a little while at least.
I’ll leave you with some ‘romantic’ quotes from Thoreau to enjoy:
‘All good things are wild and free’
‘I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright’
‘We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain…’
‘The world is but a canvas for our imagination’
(landscape lithograph of an alpine wilderness by Alexandre Calame (1810-1864))
(wolf in the wilderness and close up, courtesy of pixabay)