Born to Be Wild
Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space…
Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Born to be wild…
“Born to Be Wild,” written by Mars Bonfire, performed by Steppenwolf, lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
My understanding of the word “wild” bears the indelible imprint of this song and of “Easy Rider,” the 1969 movie for which it was the theme. These creations blasted their way into the national consciousness shortly before I began to let loose my carefully tethered wild self. Starting in 1970, I dropped out of college, ran away to Berkeley, CA, joined a collective household, ingested lots of alcohol and hallucinogens, became a radical feminist activist, experimented with different ways of expressing my sexuality, and started the process of coming out as queer. All decidedly outside the norms of my 1950’s-early 1960’s white, heterosexual, middle-class suburban upbringing.
“Wild” meant: transgressive, sexual, free, uncontrolled, active, defiant, dangerous, loud. Possibly illegal, harmful and/or violent.
Spoiler alert: The end result of the main characters’ wildness and their interactions with an intolerant society in “Easy Rider” was that they got murdered. A cautionary note, especially for those of us who are not white, heterosexual men.
I have just spent a week on the edge of the wild in Banff. At the heart of the Canadian Rockies with 13 other women in a Wild Writing workshop, led by Sonya Lea. I am rethinking my definition of “wild.” Some of the qualities I listed above still apply. Others indicate behaviors, ostensibly “wild,” that can substitute for, or even suppress, what is truly wild.
The wild experience is at once spontaneous, unruly, uncomfortable, passionate, peaceful, disruptive, orderly, balanced, disturbing, deeply satisfying. Uncontrolled by outside forces, it has its own rhythms, cycles, laws. Everything – every leaf, drop of water, tiny creature, gust of wind, ray of sunshine – has importance and is connected to everything else. Every movement, action, sound, stillness has impact that reverberates.
One can sit completely still and quiet, in harmony with one’s surroundings, and be wild. Imagine a bear hibernating, a cougar stalking, a butterfly pausing on a flower stem. In contrast, one can be loud, violent, disorderly, and be tame.
Think of Donald Trump: transgressive, loud, prone to verbal violence. Is he wild? He’d be lost in the wild. Easy prey. I doubt he’d last a day, or even an hour.
I have to admit, that thought does give me satisfaction: Donald Trump vs. a grizzly bear or a protective mother elk.
To recover our wild selves is not easy in a world in which wildness of all kinds is being extinguished daily, ostensibly in the name of progress, but actually in service of profit. Wildness challenges profit. It’s not predictable. Its rhythms are inconvenient. It has enormous needs for space and freedom from human interference, even or especially where precious, extractable resources exist.
Think of this: every small movement you make toward your own human wildness expands wildness on Earth. Every small action you take to protect wildness on Earth feeds your wildness.
If profit continues to be pitted against wildness, wildness will eventually prevail, one way or another. The humans who invented profit, powerful as they may be, simply can’t create a reality as complete or complex as the wild. But at what cost? Actions have consequences, often unpredictable, sometimes disastrous.
Whether we humans manage to prevent or survive the potential disasters we are now creating is up to our wild selves.