I walked today, in the rain, and peered through the trees to lock my gaze with an apprehensive doe. I knelt for her in the wet earth and she stepped toward me, and then paused, and stepped again. She stepped through the grass between the oak and the piled anthills that littered the ground and I wanted only for her to know the calmness of my presence and my intention of peace. I wanted her to be at ease in the clearing between us. For several moments we remained like this, and the other doe, the one standing guardedly nearby, watched us both. I slowed my breath, and focused my awareness on my own inner stillness before seeking it also in her. She stepped toward me. And I must have turned only slightly where I knelt but it was enough that her own slow movement was apprehended and then ignited as she turned and leaped away, silently. Airplanes flew overhead and the steady drone of traffic passed behind me. The trees trembled and their leaves spilled water down my neck.
In the city I become a different person. I come here every week and every week I feel an inevitable shift as I drive along the highway and the traffic becomes dense and buildings appear with increasing frequency. The shift occurs in an instant or in a gradual pull that leads to an eventual release. Colin by the Lakeside becomes Colin the urbanite and something inside of me sinks low and goes to sleep in a moment that gives rise to restless responsibility, manic productivity, and the absence of stillness. Again, as in so many aspects of my life, I experience a polarity in my perception and become lost to the gravitational pull of a world in which I feel estranged from myself, and oddly compelled by things that I am told should motivate me, though in truth they do not.
When I lived here permanently I was apt to forget myself. After months in the city I would find a rare chance to leave and I would feel something awaken in myself that I had, until then, forgotten. It was then Colin the urbanite that would go to sleep and someone different, someone distantly familiar that would come to life. He would breathe in the air made fresh by the exhalation of trees. He would feel around him the energy of natural forms and forget those contorted by the hands of industry and progress. He would return to himself and wonder how he could have forgotten this true and holy sense of being.
I am disheartened to admit that among the few reasons I come to the city, the most pressing is the need to make money. There are the more valuable incentives of connecting with loved ones and occasionally taking necessary steps toward the actualization of brewing dreams, but these are things I could, with lesser convenience, do apart from this place. The truth is, if not for my need to earn money, I would come here only rarely. I know that for many the adherence to urban norms is not born of necessity. For some people it is a joy and a pleasure to spend life indoors amidst the amenities to which we have all become accustomed. For some the thought of a forest is an inhospitable milieu rife with discomfort, fear, and isolation that they would rather not entertain. And I will admit that the conveniences and the comforts of the city do continue to have pull on me. But even the most urban-bound citizen must take some pleasure in the form of a tree, the sound of a creek, or the smell of a meadow in the coolness of a summer’s night. Everyone must recall some moment in their life when nature called to something deep within their hearts.
I have been bound to the city for the past several days, sleeping in a basement surrounded by brick walls that fail to omit the sound of traffic steadily rolling by. My spirit sinks, and if I am not careful it continues to descend until it seems to escape my reach. How did I survive this feeling in the past? How did I endure this absent-minded noise? The answer is there. I feel it creeping in and my recollection of it induces fear in my heart. I have lived here before. I can survive this place – but at a cost. I must simply go to sleep. Let Colin the urbanite awake and perform as Colin of the Lakeside becomes silent and forgotten. Let them both admit their elements and submit to polarity and the nights will pass without effort and the days will disappear in time. Let the city define me, and the rest will fall away.
The clouds came in and the air became cool and the day was mine and the walls around me were made of brick, and I did not wish to be contained. My heart was not hardened and my spirit was not silent and I clung to both with love and desperation, believing that although my past experiences had often been defined in these moments by a resignation to the dullness that pressed against my mind, I need not be defined by it any longer. I listened to my spirit with a pliant will. I quieted the voice of fear. I obeyed my heart and heard the weighted door close behind me as I walked into the air made softly damp by a cool mist.
We live in cities where once the meadows filled the spaces between the wooded dells. We covered the rivers with concrete passageways and filled the earth with veins of electric current and raw sewage. We built our homes and our factories and our retail outlet malls. We took over and said yes, we will dominate this place. We left the thought of wilderness behind and made comfort our primary goal. We were happy to be rid of the nuisance creatures, and the nuisance weather, and the arduous tasks our ancestors once endured. We created a place in which to prosper under the protection of our civility. We came into a new era.
We tried to leave discomfort behind, but what we could not leave behind was our sense of belonging. Nature was full of harshness and pain. But the urban myth did not negate our connection to the fields and the trees that lay beyond our borders. We longed for them and found solace, in rare moments of celestial perception, in the sky that moved slowly overhead. We remembered, in fleeting moments, the origins of our birth and were then drawn to come to life. We stepped out from our shelters, from their comfortable distractions, and pressed our soles to the earth. We wandered to the river’s bend were the city became invisible and surrounded ourselves with the patience of sedentary trees.
Lest I be caught in the shadow of my own idealism, I must remember: in this city, the trees outnumber the people ten to one. Pure wilderness may not surround me but there is a way to survive in this place without silencing my inner voice, which calls to the wild with a yearning I cannot ignore. I stepped out from behind brick walls, and the city was all around me, but in the air the rain was wild, and the trees were no less themselves than they would have been in any other place. I walked along the sidewalks and even rode a bus. I returned to the forest I had frequented in my youth, nestled quietly between subdivisions. I filled my mouth with berries and my hair grew damp in the rain and the sounds of the city were silenced in my mind and all that remained were the trees, and the furtive creatures, and the tall grasses. Colin the urbanite held his tongue and had no qualm as Colin by the Lakeside began to speak. There was no conflict.