Searching for Wild

Every night in my little neighborhood tucked between a wetland and a hay field, our resident pack of coyotes comes out to throw a party. I never get tired of listening to them, and wonder at the huge variety of yips and yowls they exchange. My beagle doesn’t seem at all interested in them though. I would think that though she doesn’t speak their language, she ought to at least pay attention to her distant canine relatives. But no, she only barks at other dogs. Sometimes we scoff at her for not wanting to get her feet wet, or for curling up on top of a pile of pillows to take her nap, but she has her moments of wildness. Squirrels usually do the trick. When she catches the fresh scent of rodent, it drives her mad!  She strains at the leash, alternating between frantic snuffles along the ground and baying her heart out. If we let her off the leash, she would charge into the underbrush and never stop. It’s hard to resist the call of the wild.

I think humans are like that too. We may not feel the urge to chase squirrels, but we are always chasing something, always looking for that thing we lost. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of fast cars, mountain climbing, or skydiving. Maybe it’s the peace of quiet forests, desert landscapes, or rolling meadows. We crave excitement, escape, beauty, mystery, and all the other things that represent wildness.

Children are closer to it than we adults. For them, the whole world already is exciting. Have you ever taken a walk with a toddler and had to stop every few feet while she stooped to investigate a snail or flower or lichen or funny clicking sound? Small children live through their senses. Any abstract thoughts are expressed in their imagination and play. It’s a joy to watch them at this stage. Why then, do so many adults rush children to grow up? Or keep them sheltered away in romper rooms cleansed of dirt, germs, stickers, bugs, or any other semblance of nature?

I am one of those who thinks it is because we distrust nature. If we don’t force children to stop playing and do their work, how will they ever learn it? If we don’t protect them from nature, they might get hurt. Dirt is just something that must be removed. And so it goes. And so children forget where there wonder began, and spend the rest of their lives looking for it.

Perhaps that is why we have art. Poets can sense the truth of something just out of reach and try to capture it in words. Artists don’t just paint likenesses of people and fruit bowls, they compose visions of pattern and light and emotion that help other people see what they see. Musicians play, dancers twirl, actors cry, and writers struggle because they are grasping for that wild world outside of ordinary reality. One could argue that the best artists have found it. They channel wildness to the rest of us. It is really the source of all creativity.

As parents, the best thing we can do to help our kids develop creativity is not to squash it in the first place. Let them be children as long as it lasts, because it won’t last forever. They will move on when it is time. Let them be outside as much as possible, using their senses, playing, and getting dirty. Hopefully when they do grow up, they’ll keep a little spark of wildness inside them, like a bit of wolf inside the heart of a pup, and the world will always be a wondrous place.

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