“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” – Henry David Thoreau
My son didn’t want to leave the park. He tugged on my hand, pulling me toward the swings. “Let’s stay here.”
The wind was starting to blow, rain spattering our faces. “Come on. I’m hungry,” my husband called. He was already halfway down the sidewalk, dragging my son’s scooter behind him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed something in the sky.
“Look at the birds,” I called.
The three of us turned and stared up as hundreds of starlings swarmed across the gray sky. They moved into a black mass, and then spread out, shifting together and apart, like dancers in a ballet. After a few minutes they landed all at once on a nearby oak tree, settling into its decaying leaves and gnarled branches, almost camouflaged, except for their cacophonous birdsong.
My husband cut across a field toward the tree. My son and I followed, the swings forgotten. We stood together, speechless, as we watched the starlings swarm into the sky and land, again and again.
It reminded me of other wild moments I’ve witnessed. Years ago, at Yellowstone, my husband and I trekked along a hillside at dawn, listening to an elk bugling. Then we glimpsed him on an opposite hillside, his muscular body and massive antlers silhouetted against the pale sky.
Another time, on a sweltering July day in Colorado, we lugged gear up a steep, rocky trail to an off-the-beaten-path campsite my husband had discovered as a kid. We made multiple trips from our car to the site. Then, just as we slumped into our lawn chairs, a brown bear lumbered into our campsite.
More recently, we sat on a jutting rock next to the Pacific watching waves roll in and glimpsed a whale a few miles from shore.
Watching the starlings was a similar experience – unexpected and wild. Except this time, we were just a few blocks from our home.
I’ve always loved going to nature – driving up mountain roads, finding wildness in alpine snowdrifts and aspen groves, atop fourteen-thousand-foot mountains, amidst old-growth stands, and on wind-swept beaches. These days, we do less of that. We ride our bikes and walk almost everywhere we go, and we usually spend our days off exploring the ten square miles of urban land where we’ve lived for almost a decade.
I miss driving into the wilderness, but I’m discovering that wildness is not something we need to drive to find. It’s all around us. Starlings swarm. Squirrels scavenge for acorns. Deer munch on our neighbors’ arborvitae. Wild turkeys wander the hills above our house. Ducks swoop through our neighborhood.
These creatures are our neighbors, so perhaps the moments when they surprise us and render us speechless are even more wild than the ones we traveled miles to see, binoculars in hand.
It reminds me of something I heard the nature writer David Gessner say in an interview. He travels around the world, experiencing nature, but some of his most wild moments have been at home.
I was with my dad when he died and heard his breathing slow. I was with my daughter when she was born, and these are wild moments too. For me, the key to wildness is its integration with our so-called normal lives.
Have you experienced any wild moments close to home? I’d love to hear about it.