Seeking to master my Armchair Zen is a constant challenge, a complicated prospect. Studies are a staccato of moments plucked from days immersed and submerged in a modern techno-monetary society. Commutes with think-time to fill, accompanied by three-hundred sixty degrees of an ever-varying natural world. Brief grasps of insight when ACZ tenets are applied to the events of the workday, when opportunity and memory allow. Alas, sentenced to a life as a human following the generation before and living in the richest country on Earth, the ubiquitous full-time career is required.
The imagination can have a great run at envisioning a natural life, in the wild. Sleeping in a nest of grass and leaves, arising with the sun. Drinking from the stream and foraging for food without clocks or jobs, cars or homes. A Neolithic dream which can never be realized lends itself well to Hollywood-style fiction and fantasy. Days pass wandering gently through hills and glens, communing with nature and all the living and feeling and visceral experiences imaginable. We have become accustomed to our style of living, and can’t go back to life without shoes and refrigerators. Very few really want to. Those that pursue life away from society are viewed as recluses, loners, mountain men, or worse. The truth is, heat and a steady supply of food is impossible to forget, and you will soon miss them both.
Out in the real world, the natural world, things carry on, day in and day out, without machines and modern conveniences. What are crows doing while we check the clock to be on time for a meeting? What is the coyote’s “lunch time”? Where are the owls during the day?
Driving to work, there are the deer browsing the field of corn stubble. Finding treasures, missed by the harvester, dropped from the wagon, covered by snow and now finally revealed. Flocks of Canada geese pass overhead, circle the fields, descend for landings with wings flapping and horns honking. Others are ready for departure, as they take to the sky, thirty or forty at a time, raising the call to flight. Turkey vultures soar above, two or three or five, making fixed-wing circles, scanning the ground for the next meal.
In the midst of a modern day, it’s intriguing to think of the life going on in the wild world. From remote tracts far from power lines and the sounds of trucks rolling down the interstate, to the fascinating pockets interspersed and interjected into the most modern-human-industrialized places. In the woods and along the banks of streams in the wilderness, time is at a fixed and unmeasured pace. It is now, then now has passed and it is now again. Actions are carried out as they come to mind, from leaving the den to fording the creek, landing to check out carrion, or crouching low to spring an ambush attack. Some play if there are cubs or pups or kits or simply the mood. Some concerted effort to clean out the nest (or the kits or the pups), or to go forth with the pack on the hunting party for mutual benefit.
Jack London himself could not know what it is like to be a wild thing, a thing having never been aware of being or self. To follow instinct and impulse in every moment, every day, from birth to death. Our imaginings and fictional tales are Disney-esque dreams of a Bambi life. Tweeting birds floating around his head, flowers growing all around the looking-glass pond as he watches antlers grow in. As beautiful as the total freedom of life in the wild may seem in our mind’s eye, reality must be very different. Imagine a sparrow, spending the whole day finding food where it lays. Hopefully finding food. All the while looking down for threats from below; foxes, bobcats, fishers, northern pike. And all the while looking up for threats from above; hawks, eagles, harriers, rain and hail. The harrier and hawk looking out for the eagles while airborne, minding the foxes and fishers when grounded.
On sunny spring days we hear birds singing with apparent glee, and we romanticize about the squirrel filling his stores with winter stock. We watch Canvasback ducks and admire their opportunities to see beautiful landscapes, to cross international borders without blinking an eye, to mate for life and raise fluffy yellow ducklings on the shores of Hudson Bay.
At this moment, the day’s rain has just ceased. It’s a mild spring day to us. Soon it will be dark. Wild things will bed down in damp and cold nests. The bare trees of April offer little camouflage from the silent night flyers for those on the ground. Temperatures will drop in the night, below freezing before dawn. The snow has receded, thankfully, and more forage is about than last month. Still, the long hard winter has left little by way of greens and berries, nuts and seed pods, for those that must collect them all day. It can only be the knowing of no other way that makes this all bearable. There is no other choice.
In human society, we may choose. We may choose to work and earn our livings or we may drop out and hitch-hike to California, live on the beach or under a bridge. We may choose to take from others, in the natural world a simple prospect. If you’re bigger and faster and meaner and deadlier and hungrier, you might take what you try to steal. If unsuccessful, you may run off with your tail between your legs. Or maybe you’ll be killed and eaten. Whatever.
In the human world you will be captured by other humans and spoken to then locked in a cage. Here you’ll be kept warm and fed and receive medical attention, cable TV, and free access to the library. We may choose to ignore the statutes of other humans in a wide variety of ways, most of which end the same way. Once in a great while (and it’s very rare indeed), you actually will be killed by others. Sometimes you’ll simply hand them paper earned by labor, and the score is settled.
As time marches on, it becomes more and more difficult to see, imagine or comprehend the true wild nature of wild things. The wild things themselves are increasingly being drawn into the anti-natural human world. Folks think they’re helping when they feed french fries to the seagulls outside the fast food restaurant. When they toss bleached white-flour bread to mergansers. When they feed their yummy table scraps to their own dogs. These things may be tasty, but how do we know how it will affect animals? Look what it’s done for humans, a frequently-overweight animal beleaguered by blood pressure, circulatory, cholesterol and other problems.
Treks into the wood with the faithful dog are but brief glimpses into the real, natural world. It is a beautiful, if sometimes harsh, place. There are no fakes in the natural world (though there may be camouflages and lures). No hawkers (hawks yes, hawkers no). No artificial conveyances or communications.
And it’s happening right now. Without fanfare or infomercials. Birds fly, eat, die. Gophers dig, eat, die. Insects crawl, eat and die. The sun rises & sets, winds blow and abate, tides ebb and flow. Grasses and trees and shrubs await their time, sprout buds & catkins, drop seeds to the ground or launch them airborne into the wind. Tiny spider hatchlings will float on teeny web-parachutes. Mature beavers will leave their families after a few years, to build their own ponds.
And along comes an odd animal. With four appendages, none of them wings, but walking only on two. It is covered with a most unusual coat. Not fur nor feather, but a colorful mix of woven fabrics. It’s feet are bound in coverings as well. It comes into the woods for short sojourns, then returns to the odd, square nest built from heavily-worked trees. It is a strange animal. Like all strange things in the natural world, it is eyed cautiously and given a wide berth. It is, nonetheless, accepted and respected as part of the world. A world we all must share.
Be kind to the upright animal, for its upbringing has left it short on natural skills and movement.
Give it some time.