My Wild Return: Part 1 - Shell Shocked

Outside my home growing up in St. Louis City was a large black locust tree, the only tree on the block. The homes along the street were tiny, made for poor folk like my family. Behind our homes was a dust bowl, a large lot with no grass and soil eroding away - and behind that, across Broadway, were chemical companies and metal works - and behind that, blocked from view, was the great Mississippi River. In front of our homes, set up on a hill, was a huge foreboding convent where spooky nuns in habits walked the grounds. The trees on their land were off limits, but I had 'my' tree.

For my siblings and me, that tree was the only 'wild' we knew, that glorious tree of my memory, as it's been cut down now. For my first eleven years until my family moved about two miles away, that tree was my wilderness, with it's white flower locks of hair, soft green leaves and sturdy thick trunk. One August afternoon, at age 7, I heard an undulating deafening buzz that crescendoed then fizzled out, only to start up again, coming from our tree. Asking my mom what made the tree hum like that, she said, "Big bugs called cicadas are hiding in the leaves, singing." I had no idea what a cicada was, but when I noticed an empty crusty brown shriveled shell thing stuck to the bark, I gasped, literally 'shell-shocked' and pointed to it. Mom said, "That's what the cicada left behind - his shell." "Ew," I grimaced.

Forty years later, I finally saw my first cicada emerge from its shell and transform into one of the awesome invisible buzzers of my childhood, but that was the result of a miracle. Facing the enormity of human brutality as a social and environmental activist had become my life's work, a never-ending 'ew,' and I had suffered from a deep rooted secondary post-traumatic stress, a different kind of shell-shock than the cicada remnant had left me with - and I had to quit that life or be burned up by it. In 2009, seeking solace, I'd discovered birds existed thanks to my mom telling me about some Great Horned Owls nesting nearby - and my life was irrevocably changed as I unshackled myself from my obsession with ending human misery and emerged a full time wandering bird-lover and bard of the marvelous.

Not growing up with field guides, people communing with nature, or even nature documentaries (as close as I got was the TV show "Flipper") I literally had no idea the wild existed all around me. I grew up in the heart of St. Louis City, playing on asphalt, concrete and mowed lawns, not in woods or even parks. At the zoo as a young child, I was taught the insidious notion that the wild was exotic entertainment, something to be gawked at in cages - and only existed free and dangerous in exotic countries. Even as an adult, the wild was an abstraction, something going extinct somewhere far away or a tallgrass prairie or spring I was trying to save in my state, but had never seen or experienced. When I realized that hundreds of species of birds were making due in every crevice of my city, when I finally gazed into their eyes and allowed myself to be overcome by their beauty, I was aghast and enraptured at the same time, aghast that I'd I could have missed this unbelievable magic, enraptured by the wonder of them and all they led me to notice - trees, insects, seasons, the wind, the moon, the entirety of the cosmos unfolding in so many thrilling forms. For the first time in my life, I found peace. Thus began my love affair with the wild; thus began my wild return.

Next installment: Getting Fat On Beauty - Transforming My Anorexic Life

Publicado el 21 de septiembre de 2022 a las 10:36 PM por wildreturn wildreturn


I didn’t grow up with locust trees or cicadas, but like you, lived on the edge of ‘civilization’ in a tiny- house neighborhood bordered by rural farmland on two sides, and industry and a big river on the other—the Columbia. Because our little yard had many plantings and the neighborhood had trees, the ‘wild’ was essential brought to our back door. However, watching a mud caked, brown and bulbous carapace travel up a tree trunk a few years ago, split and produce an amazing big-winged neon green adult—wow. I share your wonder.

Anotado por zerbek hace más de un año

Interesting. I never thought of myself as living on the edge of 'civilization' in the city, but I guess I did. That wild untamed river was only a block away, but it might as well have been a hundred miles, blocked mostly from view by industry as it was. You were truly on the edge in the country, in my mind. Where I grew up, the poison Union Carbide dumped into our sewers exploded in ominous green fire from our manholes. The stench was pervasive. Asphalt and concrete was my playground, except for a tiny patch of a 15' incline of grass that we called a hill leading to the stone wall of the convent. Grass was our savior as we played King of the Hill on it. Our neighbor next door, a kind woman we adored, grew wild roses everywhere, but fell in them one day and was covered in bloody sores, giving my siblings and I an early fear of 'gardens.' Ah, memories.

Anotado por wildreturn hace más de un año

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