At the start of this year, I moved to a tiny town in the mountains of Colorado. I didn’t grow up in a small town. I grew up in a massive suburb in the Midwest. Target was my playground, the aisles memorized laps with jolts of adrenaline at each destination: make-up, clothes, books. The Mall of American was where my parents dropped me for a full day of mall-wandering with girlfriends. The object of the game: stringing as many bags on our arms as possible, the red marks our tallies.
The only wild thing about the burbs was the zoo neighboring my cul-de-sac. Once, a cockatoo escaped the bird show and landed in our tree, agreeing to wait until the zookeepers came to retrieve him. The peacocks were sent to another zoo. Too much noise.
Colorado: Rattle snakes, bears, rapids, summits, avalanches. Not far from town, the wilderness could swallow me and my body might hide for weeks — months — before being discovered. Insignificant.
I love it. I’m constantly walking on the earth that will be my grave. The smell — organic, hint of decay, cold breeze rising from the river. The mountains make my problems feel small. Which is good. I’ve a tendency to see problems where they don’t exist.
So immediate has my love been for this wild piece of world (I say “wild,” yet we have all modern conveniences. Reception on tops of mountains). “How do people live anywhere else?” I might smile to myself, cloudless sky shining on me, yellow and blue. Even caffeine doesn’t have the same effect as it did in the city. Less jittery.
I go to New York, a place that seeded early within me as a hap’nin’ place. A wilderness of different sorts; the World Wilderness, where you work your way up to predator, efforts to groom, primp and pluck, all part of the Big Hunt.
I loved it. I wanted it, a hunger with hesitation, a condition: only if New York would provide what I wanted. A high position on the Food Chain, if you please, double shot. But the city laughed. The wilderness makes no promises.
Now I walk the trails of concrete, look at the faces who don’t look back, gazes distant or buried in an illuminated screen, white and black. The jitters return; I haven’t had coffee yet. Single shot, if you please. Maybe decaf. Where has the sky gone, the horizon now vertical? “How do people live anywhere else?” I worry, wondering if they’d know what to do if a mountain lion attacked. How to feel insignificant.
I judge, you see. How habitual judgments are, like blinking. Or texting. As I pause to look at the people passing me, to really see — I smile at everyone, softly, in case they are starved for smiles — I loved them, judgments fading. These are little slices of wild, these peacocks, too loud for the suburbs, seeking a place where they can shriek, lungs raw. These people who feel at home walking on the earth that will be their grave. Turnings faces towards the sky. Fearlessly flashing teeth, despite “this, that, and the other thing.” Those problems we see where they don’t exist.
And it really doesn’t matter. We know that. It’s nice to be reminded. It doesn’t matter where we live, only that we seek our tribe. Otherwise, no matter if we’re in the wilderness — remote — or the city — busy — or the suburbs — Target — there will be loneliness. Not the kind we all feel at times, only ourselves encased in this flesh. The kind that forgets the scent of decay.
Loneliness that points at you then me. Loneliness that forgets “we.” That forgets our roots all go into the earth, and there, they intertwine, giving and taking life to and from one another in ways that only the wilderness orchestrates. We do live forever — the wilderness sees to that — but we don’t live forever as individuals. We live forever in one seething cycle, all of it, multi-colored.