At age eighteen I left the comfort of suburbia and family for college and wilderness. College was expected. Wilderness called to me. While bicycling Arizona’s Painted Desert I slept in Indian ruins. I huddled amongst boulders as lightning danced on Colorado peaks. I sat on Pacific shores beneath a heavy overcast, immersed in the sound of thundering surf. A worried mother asked, “What are you escaping?” “I’m looking for something that I don’t understand.” As much as I watched and listened to nature, her essence remained elusive.
Ten years later I began to work a small farm beside Oregon’s Santiam River. The land enchanted me. The osprey’s high-pitched call pierced my workday like a brilliant knife penetrating to the core of my being. Turkey vultures glided silently above August’s sun baked fields. Winter’s wind sighed through firs on the hill above the farm.
While I reveled in the wildness, my every effort tried to turn it aside, to manipulate the land to grow food. Rain showers that I had watched from a tent on backpacking trips now soaked me as I hurried to plant before soil turned to mud. The deer I once quietly observed from a forest trail became pests that I fenced out. The cold that used to keep me lingering in a sleeping bag long past sunrise turned my hands red and numb while I picked kale for market. I plunged naked into November’s swollen river to rescue irrigation equipment. Blackberry thorns drew blood as I flailed at them with a machete. I clawed weeds out of the earth while the patient soil absorbed sweat dripping off my face. Disease and bugs shrouded visions of a bountiful harvest. But over time, the earth and the night sky so dwarfed my frustrated efforts that disappointment evaporated into a pure fullness. That fullness blossomed inside like an inner fire as a weak January sun rose over the kale field, bringing life coursing into numb hands. The wilderness I once pursued abides far from this farm, but I found it, unexpectedly, dwelling in callused hands and muddy, frosted fields.