I am a nature child at heart. Finding my way to Paganism in young adulthood is probably the best thing I ever accidentally did for my sanity. Even though I have always made my home in an urban setting, whether in this city or that other one, I am always able to find my connection to the wildness hiding in plain sight, and that keeps me grounded when the stress and chaos of life presses in. My ears are finely tuned to the far-off sound of honking geese, the flash of red and sharp cheep of the cardinal, the rustle of the fox in the brush as the sun goes down, the flash of deer in the woods on the side of the highway.
Growing up in the early 80’s, I lived in a suburban-feeling neighborhood in a small city. We had a yard and a pool, garden beds and trees and a swing set made by my Pap’s hands. We had a cul-de-sac with woods edging the property line. My little sister and brother and I spent countless hours outside, running and playing here and there, setting up scrap wood play houses with mud pie dinners, clover and dandelion decorations. We set traps for the squirrels that we must have learned from Looney Tunes, and we hid behind a huge oak tree waiting for the squirrels to walk under the box held up by the stick, as we held the string, willing them to take the peanut bait. I recall vividly watching the big black ants crawl on the peony growing next to the Blessed Mother’s concrete grotto, the smell of marigolds and tomatoes, the spray from Pap’s hose making rainbows in the grass as he watered the gardens. I remember the cold hush of sledding down the hills, the thrill of climbing that one tree just a little bit too high, sticky sap on my hands for days after, the feel of slug slime in the dried leaf pile.
But my most treasured memories are the ones of exploring, going where I’d never been before, venturing off the path and into a place where, though I could see the house through the trees, I was in a different space in those familiar woods. The excitement of being out at dusk, the fireflies lighting up the yard, the surprise rustle of the young doe sneaking up, the mysterious heat emanating from the middle of the grass clipping compost heap, the thrill of overturning the rock too heavy to lift alone, using a stick for leverage, our three faces curious, eager to see the underside, looking through Mother Nature’s drawers. What would lie waiting for us under that rock? Half worms wriggling into the soil? Big, creepy beetles, shiny black and scurrying in the light? Dozens of grey pill bugs that curl into balls when you touch them? Millions of red brown ants, panicked at their sudden change in environment? A single thin green snake?? The delight, and the horror, the suspense and the laughing relief of that moment of reveal, the heavy thump of the rock falling down on the ground as we rush away to avoid crushed toes and skinned knees.
It’s been many years since I have had that joy of my childhood. I know now that what I shared with my siblings was a blessing not bestowed on every child, and that I will always cherish it, even as I mourn the fact that we will never again have the opportunity to live that innocent, sweetly curious and protected life of exploration and wonder. But I’ll always be one who seeks out the mystery. I will always be looking under the rocks, pressing my hands into the compost heap to feel the alchemical warmth. I still want to climb the tree, chase the fireflies, venture farther into the woods, stay out past dark to see what comes out at night. These things are true literally and they are also metaphor. Finding Paganism not only gave me a vocabulary for my lifelong nature obsession, it also set me down a path of inner exploration: peering into the shadows, looking behind the obvious, exercising the parts of myself that long for adventure and a sense of wonder at the discovery of a new place, drawn in by my fascination with the unknown, unexpressed parts of myself and the people who make up my world. We humans are so full of hidden wildlife and mystifying wonders; for all our efforts at self-control and civilization, we are curious members of Mother Nature’s collection, every bit as strange as the unexplored wilderness.
In a few years I’ll be 40 (even though part of me still feels like that sassy kid ready to burst with the need for sunshine and the cold trickle of snow melt through the forest), and the older I get, the faster time passes, and the better view I have. Standing like monoliths in the landscape of my life are things, once important to me, that I have somehow wandered away from. Exploration. Creation. Expression. They call me back to them with silent voices I can feel pulsing through my veins like blood. And I return, now, the same wild child with sap in her hair, squinting in the sun, curious and eager and madly in love with all of Mother Nature’s creations.