There’s something about walking out of the desert or other wild or marginally wild area that you don’t get walking into it. Something that you feel in your return to others sharing the fire or that comes from sliding into your vehicle to head home at the end of a hike or campout. Something about completing the journey on foot, walking through the front door, closing the circuit.
Anyway, there’s something that I get.
It isn’t a sense of satisfaction, exactly, though there’s some of that, especially if while you were out there you survived an accident (minor landslide?) or precarious encounter (yikes, a skunk!) or witnessed the wrenching beauty or drama of some scene or event that jimmied your soul. A good bit of what I feel when I come back is excitement about what I’m bringing to my family or to other interested parties: stories about what I saw, what happened, what has changed. Stories about what’s possible.
I don’t think of nature stories as being different in kind from or as having any higher quality than tales I bring away from adventures with other human beings €”say, students in my English classes or my own kids €”or from what are broadly termed €œspiritual experiences. € I carry these stories out of the wild contained in the same vessels of hope with which I tote ripe tomatoes from garden to kitchen or explore scriptural terrain in church classrooms: Look at this! What does it open to us?
It all seems pretty wild to me.
It’s in the spirit of swapping good tales that we’ve built a fire ring, a traditional seat of storytelling, here at Wilderness Interface Zone. We do not aim to exalt the nature €œexperience € over the temple or chapel €œexperience € or to elevate nature’s concerns over human ones. Literature that romanticizes nature and in process vilifies people is self-limiting. Speaking for myself, I find events erupting in any of these elements €”the spiritual, the natural, the human €”and in overlapping zones between them completely immersed in the unbounded moment, containing ripple after ripple of engagement. This suggests to me that the potential quality of human experience need not be located wholly €œout there, € in the assumed character of an environment or setting for relation, but depends a great deal upon the spiritual brio we bring to any given moment.
We launch Wilderness Interface Zone knowing nature literature is something of a spiritual and artistic frontier for Mormons…and yet not. With Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Mormonism certainly stakes a defensible claim in the tradition of finding God in the wilderness. Couple this claim with belief in eternal progression, add the central role repentance plays in Mormons’ lives, and Mormons really have quite the lenses for gazing upon the grandeur of the Mystery. With growing LDS scientific and cultural communities, Mormon literary nature writers ought to abound. Concern does seem to be mounting in the church for taking a different stance toward how we live in this world, for re-imagining our stewardship in the Creation. One of WIZ’s raisons d’etre is to support stewardship through story.
Before we start, I want to express deepest thanks to the wiz at A Motley Vision, the inestimable William Morris, for helping me build this space and try something I’ve ached to do since I began blogging over three years ago.
And I want to make a promise: Nature is sufficiently extravagant that one need not embellish to tell the tale straight. I don’t take the Annie Dillard’s cat approach to nature writing. If I say a white-throated swift approached me of its own will, it did. If I tell you that a coyote shadowed me and my dog up a canyon, that’s what happened. My thinking on what such incidents mean might wander, but the overall narrative trail will run true.
Okay then. Here we are. Let’s go see what’s out there.