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The Tonic of Wildness

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometime in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and the booming of the snipe . . .  Henry David Thoreau

I found my shoulders relaxing and my breath deepening.  Every once in a while, as I sat there on Joy Center’s staircase pressing my face against the rails, I’d close my eyes and just listen.  I was present, in the moment, with a room full of people sitting in chairs and on the stairs this past Wednesday evening, present, in the moment, with B.G. Bradley at his camp in the summertime, interacting with, being a part of nature.  Before we all arrived for his performance, At the Lake, B.G. had set the stage – he had brought in a camp chair, a table, two antique decoys, a photo of his dog, his old camp boots.  And when the performance began, he tromped into the room in worn shorts, his flannel shirt, a floppy hat, singing a song, a song he sings as he hikes the woods and paddles the lake.  And, then, as he sat down and poured himself a cup of coffee, he began.

Throughout the evening, B.G. read entries from his camp journal, recited to us, in poem and prose, the mundane gloriously alive details of a summer spent unplugged from computer and cell phone and TV.  And with my eyes closed and my head pressed against the rails, I could envision it: the sweet warmth of wild raspberries on my tongue in June, the morning fog on the lake in July, the loons and their baby swimming close to the canoe, two eagles flying overhead.  And every once in a while, when the mundane exquisite beauty was almost too much to absorb, B.G. would break out in song or story.  And by August, by the final journal entries and poems of the evening, when B.G. described the monarch butterfly landing on the blossoming milkweed, it was enough for him, enough for the relaxed, August version of himself, and enough for us, this simple detail; the butterfly and the blossom held the abundance of the whole universe in it.

That’s what happens when we leave behind our cell phones and our computers and make our way out into the wild.  We feel a peace in our bones; at least, I did this past Wednesday evening.  I didn’t have to unplug for the whole summer.  I didn’t even have to leave the comfort of a heated Joy Center cottage on a winter’s evening.  I just had to crawl into that space within me where I, too, could remember how delicious it is to hear the call of a loon as it flies overhead, how precious it is to witness a fawn wobble on its newborn legs or a frog breathing its frog breath and glistening in the sun.  I love the wild and I need its tonic.


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