heart to wild heart: kelsey richardson

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the other night a big group of us gathered on top of lawson peak, southeast of san diego, to celebrate one of the sweetest wild hearts I’ve had the honor to meet here in california, before she heads north for the next chapter of the life of adventure that she leads. I first met kelsey at the yoga studio where I teach– her smile lit up the whole lobby, and once we started talking, it quickly became clear we had to be friends, adventure partners, hiking buddies. she introduced me to lawson, whose summit blocks are a playground for wild hearts of all ages to enjoy. it was such a pleasure to enjoy this wild open space with such beautiful people, all gathered to rejoice in the radiant heart of love that is kelsey.

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though she’s busy getting ready for the big move north, kelsey was kind enough to sit down to answer five questions in this next installment of my interview series. enjoy!

1. what is the most epic adventure you have ever lived?

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the clearest way into the universe

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we could sit for centuries, bound in the spell of one tree, entering into relationship with it through a kaleidoscope of sense– its thousands of scents, the warm touch of its bark (and the cool bed of its humus)– the fierce delicacy of sap, so clean and smooth on the tongue– until it makes sense in the most ancient part of ourselves, in the darkest cells in the marrow of our bones–

our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth; our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. to shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our life-styles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. we are human only in contact and conviviality with what is not human. only in reciprocity with what is other do we begin to heal ourselves.

–david abram

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and yet, here we are in a literal forest of such sensuous wonders– the endless experience to be enjoyed in one tree– times the infinite number of trees all calling to us with the same (same but different) plaintive, beautiful pulsing– come here, come home–

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the question isn’t even should I stay, here, with one tree, settling deep into the awe of it as it unfolds in unending isness to meet the same (same but different) in us; or do I wander, further down the path, following the wild calls of turkey, the sky wings of bluebird, the track of lion, the wet bramble of the brook and the dapple of light under this tree, and this tree, and this one too– each rolling endlessly out along the ridges & valleys of this fine wild earth, each rooted in their own time, and space– each one a home, a member of a family it takes lifetimes to meet, so vast it spans worlds, worlds–

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should we stay or should we go? whether rooted in one place, in resolute joy, in relationship to one tree, or walking the soft ground that connects them to each other, and us to each particular of the breathing, laughing, dying-and-being-born world of sense we call forest, a day in the wild is an opening into infinity.

‘the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.’ — john muir

heart to wild heart: tiffany davidson

(this is the next installment of a series of interviews with wild folks near & dear to me, whose vision & connection continue to inspire my own adventure with the wild world.) 

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it’s hard to introduce someone as multifaceted and, well, wild as tiffany. equal parts forest sprite, adventuress, homesteader, artist & spiritual nomad, her journey has been a beacon on my own path for some years now. her relationship to the lifeworld of the forest was what drew me into her story– which speaks for itself. the sweet soft heart at the core of this woman radiates into everything she makes with her hands and animates her every word with a breathing, thriving love for the earth and the flora & fauna it sustains. read on:

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1. you’re one of the first people who come to mind when I think of the phrase ‘wild woman.’ what does this name mean to you and how do you embody it?

What a compliment–thank you! The phrase ‘wild woman’ carries great weight to me. It means that I am still captivated and in awe of just being. A wild mind is forever inquisitive & every day remembering what a wonder it is to be here at all. With this mindset, simply walking through the woods or sitting in the surf are positively exalting and waking in the morning opens a wide blank canvas of potential. Mary Oliver sums it up pretty well when describing Walt Whitman: “restless, unwilling to give over a single day to idleness, always on the move, climbing, looking, describing.” Continue reading

close to home

because I’m so drawn to the mountains and desert east of here, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that a wonderful wilderness lies just a single block from my home: the pacific ocean! yesterday I embarked– with two sweet ocean aficionados, as pulled by the water as I am by dry earth, thin air– on a completely different kind of hike: along the sandstone cliffs that line the coast from my neighborhood all the way down the peninsula.

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while I have spent plenty of time at the cliffs, in the coves and small beaches speckled along the shore here in the nearly four years that I’ve lived here, this was my first time really exploring the magic of the low tide–

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time had carved caves into the edifice of sand turned stone– caves full of lichen & anemone– everything suddenly violet–

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the water of the tidepools was cool, the fresh tang of salt wholly healing– the play of light & color hard to believe, even with my own two eyes–

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and so much wildlife, here, just a stone’s throw from my own abode! more flora & fauna than we could ever try to name, or know– all teeming, luminous, violet, soft bursts of lifeworld erupting in a matrix of stone, water, light–

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after hours of wonder, here, time to return– the rising tide a joy immersing us to the depth of shoulder, sternum, heart–

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with salty skin & sea-strewn hair, back up the cliffs, through the wild flowering of the chrysanthemum fields, through the mad thicket of trees that grow where the ocean meets the earth, in complete awe of this vast wildness so close to home, this exhilarating new terrain right in my own backyard.

what we get from this adventure

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‘what we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. and joy is, after all, the end of life. we do not live to eat and make money. we eat and make money to be able to live. that is what life means and what life is for.’ — george mallory

heart to wild heart: james wood

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(this is the first in a recurring series of five question interviews with awesome humans who continue to inspire my own heart to rewild.)

I met james wood when we both worked at an organic food co-op here in san diego. we ended up briefly sharing space in a communal house a ways up north, on four acres that hosted a strangely beautiful melange of pines, riparian wilderness and overgrown apricot and avocado orchards. he left town shortly after I moved in, but his knowledge of plant medicine and healing struck a chord whose resonance began to shape my own path. on a brief visit recently, I was honored to catch up with james on a day hike into one of the breathtaking slot canyons of our nearest desert.

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I was inspired anew by his wealth of knowledge, his depth of experience with the wild world, and his wise and beautiful approach to life. james was kind enough to sit down to answer these questions and share some of his gems of insight & information with this wild heart and with yours.

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1. where did you grow up and what was your relationship to the wild earth in this place?

My youth was spent in a small town at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range called Shingle Springs. There was quite a lot of open space to roam around with a landscape scattered with oak and pine trees, Manzanita bushes, mountain lions, rabbits, and many more wild plants and creatures. My family lived on 6 acres, which gave me a safe space to get in touch with the land. On this land I developed, and have carried ever since, a connection to the natural world that influences my thoughts, actions, and feelings to this very day. I feel blessed to have been exposed to such a raw connection with the earth at such a young age. I spent most of my time outside climbing trees, exploring trails around the neighborhood, and shooting off the occasional round on my BB gun. I feel that a raw connection to nature is essential for any child to grow into a healthy and caring steward of the planet.

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2. what is your relationship to the wilderness around you now like?

Currently, I am living on Fidalgo Island, Washington, in the San Juan Island chain. The nature here is quite different than anywhere else I’ve lived, and is what intitially attracted me to move to the area. I am surrounded by enormous cedar trees, large Jurassic Park-like ferns, giant nettles, moss covered maple trees, and more blackberry bushes than your grandma would dream of (that is, if your grandma likes making pies). Everything here is extremely soft. There is quite a lot of rain, which keeps everything very green all year round. The softness here fosters a deep level of comfort, which allows me to feel safe walking barefoot everywhere in the forest. Bald eagles are an everyday sight around the island as well.

I have connected with the ecosystem here in a few different ways. First, I have incorporated a lot of wild foods into my diet. Nettles, self-heal, salmonberries, huckleberries, blackberries, wild rose, red-belted polypore mushrooms, usnea, and more. I also collect all of my drinking water from a spring not too far away, which has been an integral part of my life for the last three years. Making my body out of wild food and water has been a life altering practice, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to deepen their connection to the wild world of nature. Building your body out of your local ecosystem through wild food and water allows you to get in touch with the heart of the place you reside. You become it. You then begin to act out the evolution of that very place, and line up with the life cycles of the area.

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3. on our trip out to the slot canyon, you talked a lot about plant medicine and even wildcrafted some ocotillo and chaparral. can you describe your connection to the plant world and what drew you to it? Continue reading

where the wild heart is

did you know that jeffrey pine sap tastes exactly like limoncello? jeffrey pine with its sweet-soft butterscotch-vanilla-maple syrup bark, with its fibonacci-perfect cones, with mountain air rushing like impossible water through its needles?

did you know that, in a circle of these trees, you are more at home than in any house?

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I can’t speak for you, but to me a day on this wild earth, moving with these mountains, is moment after moment of marvel (interrupted in intervals by sheer awe).

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so many moments, following each other toward night like the moon follows the sun west: the tasting of the pine sap. the bleached antlers of oak, so many years after the fire. the algae in the cold water of the creek.

wandering off trail to eat underneath one of the tallest pines, in a sun-browned bed of its needles, listening to the song of the world. the wind in the green above, and blue beyond that.

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going off the map– thinking, we could just keep walking. and walking.

the deer bursting through the thicket, its strong haunches, the thunder of its feet on the ground so loud and close.

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the sheer faces of the mountains, the narrow footpath we call ‘pacific crest trail.’

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the desert floor below, the beauty and the gloaming. the fire of the last light to the west over pine mountain, its namesakes standing tall on the ridge, black against the deep deep red of it. the chill of the wind, serious (but kind), after dark.

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the deepest sense of belonging, here, and to each particular of this world, perhaps great enough to withstand the grief of leaving, of going back– until we come home again.

spring awakening

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what better way to celebrate the vernal equinox than to spend a day exploring the pine creek wilderness with a sweet wild heart?

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lately I am lucky to have k as my guide on these forays into the wilderness southeast of san diego. until now, our adventures had taken us to the peaks that hover in the expanse of sky, but earlier today we went down. we descended down hillsides of yucca and chaparral into a deep canyon carved by the wild rushing of spring itself: pine creek. dry during the later months of the year, in spring she roars with all the sound of the rain and snow that collects on the mountains to our north. water cold as clouds to the touch, rich wet smell of loam in the air.

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down by the creek, we left the trail and followed a path of boulders upstream, the granite smooth as glass beneath our feet, the brush on shore so choked with poison oak we had to cover up. this fierce protector of the forest, in spring so successful in its defense of its land and so prolific that only the most resolute, reverent wanderers dare pass.

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a world of abundance lay ahead: the riparian ground teeming with animal life, the air thick with the songs of birds and the wings of butterflies. we met frogs, alligator lizards, snakes, and turtles. the tracks of coyote and the remains of a raccoon small sidetracks in the grand narrative of life at play at pine creek: birth, death, beauty.

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the wind in the leaves of the oaks– a red-tailed hawk’s slow drift in a rising current– the heat the sun hides in granite so fine to the touch of fingers, palms– the color green emerging from the dark humus in the great heaving push of life insisting on itself– all particulars that hold the glory of the everything, all signifiers to the resplendence of the unknowable whole–

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and us here, somehow, in this verdant valley, witness, participant, celebrant, wild as the heart of the earth that engenders so urgently and endlessly this, and this, and this beauty–

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o! the joy

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sometimes a day in the wild blows you away so profoundly that there are no words to describe its power. and yet the urge to share is here! this peak is a playgound for wild hearts of all ages, and I’m so smitten with it I’ve climbed it twice in one week (and may go again the day after tomorrow!). both times, we were the only humans on the whole mountain for the entire length of the adventure– these, too, just words.

but I think the photos speak for themselves– like the silence of stone, and the quiet joy of the growing light of spring.