Henry David Thoreau once said, “we need the tonic of wildness.”
Having spent a long time living alone on Walden Pond deep in the forest, Thoreau certainly knew this tonic well. He spoke of exploring marshes and woods– of being refreshed by nature. Thoreau learned well that we need nature, that nature has the power to cleanse and renew us. He knew that nature brings us to ourselves in a way nothing else can.
Nature has the power to restore us.
But if nature can renew and restore us, why do we spend so little time in it nowadays? Why do we not seek that tonic of wildness more often?
No, I don’t know the answer, but I can guess at some of the reasons. Maybe we’re too comfortable indoors. Maybe we are too glued to our screens. Or maybe we’re too tired and rundown to even think about seeking out that tonic. And maybe we’ve just forgotten what it feels like to have mud squish between our toes or to lay in the grass and gaze up at a blue sky. I almost wonder if we were to remember if we would seek it out more.
Do you know who remembers those feelings?
Children remember. Children, who make forts out of treetops and villages out of creekbeds – they remember and know well the tonic of wildness. They are the ones who seek out the muddy puddles after a rainstorm, and the ones who collect dandelions. They haven’t forgotten what it’s like. They remember all too well.
A quote that’s attributed to Pablo Picasso keeps coming back to me. “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Because it’s the same with art as it is with nature, isn’t it? Children have this innate desire and ability to explore their world – whether it be in nature, the world around them, or in art, a world they can create.
I know I can see this in myself, and I’m wondering if you can, too. I am a writer. At least, I like to say that I am. Growing up, I wrote like wildfire. I filled notebook after notebook with stories. And not only that, but I played outside to my heart’s content. I knew how to make a wilderness out of a suburban backyard. I can remember just how vast everything seemed back then… before I grew up. Before I let it go. Before I got some “sense” knocked into me about how the world really works.
But living artless and wordless away from nature is not how the world should really work, is it? I know you can probably tell similar stories from your childhood too, no?
Or maybe you see it in your own children. And you know, that’s why and how I’m starting to come back to myself – because of what I see in my own children. I see them turn our house into a fantasy land, and all they’ve had to do was turn a switch on in their imagination. They can write stories like I used to, and they can play like I used to, too.
I see my younger self in them, and I know – they are the artists. And I want to be there to make sure that they never lose that. I want them to burn the wildfires on the page and canvas and in the backyard and while they play. I want them to explore and be refreshed and renewed by that exploration – and then explore some more. And I want them to know that this world and the world within them are endless, and so keep on exploring.
I may not write or create like wildfire anymore. I am older now and have seen a lot in this life. But my pen can move as in a wildwood, exploring gently as a butterfly drifts in and out of the trees and flowers. I can do my wildwood writing, and explore in my own way.
I know now that this may suit me. And so as the children cleanse and restore their souls as in a wildfire, I might cleanse and restore mine as in a wildwood. It’s time to take a path deep into the wilderness and explore far and wide.
It’s time to partake once again in the tonic of wildness.
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Write away, friends!