this rock and this ache

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after some trips into the backcountry, I find myself excited to return to the city where I live and work and play– excited to tell friends that stayed behind the stories of the adventure, or just to laze around my little neighborhood with a cup of coffee and a book. but often the drive back to civilization elicits a sinking feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. I think it’s a kind of mourning: it’s not only the leaving behind of a great beauty that makes my heart come alive, but also facing the absence or loss of this particular kind of beauty in the human community to which I’m returning. maybe it’s just the contraction that has to follow the great heart-opening expansion I feel when I spend time with the wild world– maybe my heart breathes so free out there that to restrict its movements when I come back is a brutal but necessary pain.

but what hurts is this: this home I return to is not the home I feel called to in my heart. the home that calls me is also a home to mountain lions and golden eagles (or black bears and moose, or proud elk and grizzlies). none of these animals can live where I do– so how can I?

what hurts is: how hard the human animal has to work to survive its own habitat.

what hurts is this: the home I return to has been dispossessed of its wildness. but I know that once, before the roads and houses and pier and harbor and businesses were built, before this land was settled by this culture, it was as rugged a wilderness as any that I now yearn to explore. and, walking along the cliffs that hug the shoreline, or up the slopes that rise tall in the center of our little peninsula, I do feel the pulse of the living wild beneath the pavement, feel its power breathing under the foundation of each of our buildings. sometimes it’s a flowering native plant breaking through the sidewalk cement. sometimes it’s a family of owls that have made their home in one of the palm trees someone has planted outside of the apartment complex, shouting all night to each other but hunting on silent wings. and the ocean itself– that fierce endless roar that holds more wild-life than we’d ever imagine in its immense embrace. I watch the surfers sometimes, rolling in the waves that soften the great boundary between the two ecosystems of this land and this sea, and I know they are in the same space I am in when I travel out to the desert or the mountains to chase this feeling (whether they acknowledge it or not): the longing to return to the community of wild lives to which we know we belong; the exhilaration with and the rush of joy of each homecoming; and the connection that arises between us and every other being that lives for exactly this, our wild hearts beating the rhythm of that same great force that thrives beneath, around, between and within us.

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