Love the Wild

Feb 5, 2021 | Jeff Trufant

I remember most the silence. 

Prayer flags and pennants floated from the stone houses around us–houses that seemed to have grown into the landscape itself.  They were less like stones stacked one on another by human hands and more like crags in the cold and barren hillside, weathered and roughened by centuries.  From that hilltop town we watched the sun rise over the Himalayas.  We barely saw a face, and we only heard an occasional voice and rooster crows and silence. 

The people sheltered from this harsh mid-winter terrain, cold and rough; terrain we had come to explore.

We had spent nearly a week getting to that place—one of the most remote areas I have ever been.  The coming days sent us down river, travelling self-sufficiently by kayak for over a hundred kilometers of difficult whitewater and losing more than 6000’ of elevation.  By every metric our trip down the Tuli Beri, one of Nepal’s wildest rivers, was truly an adventure.  We were skilled and practiced kayakers, yet this river was at the edge of our ability and knowledge, and in the days we spent getting to the headwaters via bus, and porter, and even our own chartered plane, it seemed to be also on the very edge of the world.  The journey there and back were intensely difficult; what carried us through were our friendships and a deep love of the wild.

Now, a habit is a tendency or action so well practiced that it becomes like second nature to us, shaping who we are, and a virtue is essentially a great habit.  The love of the wild, I believe, is a virtue.  Of course, it is not so well known as courage, justice, or charity, and perhaps rightly so, but a love of the wild is necessary for a life well lived and the reason why is simple: 

“The wild” is not just in the Himalayas, jungles, deserts, forests, or overseas.  It is not relegated to steep rivers or peaks in faraway places.  The wild is all around us.  Our world is full of literal and metaphorical dark places, frontiers, and unknowns — and even what knowns we have are often flipped topsy-turvy without warning, as 2020 has reminded us.  These unknowns are “the wild.”

And “loving” the wild doesn’t mean there is always a wild enthusiasm and warm-fuzzy feelings for it — no more than it means that for your family or friendships.  First and foremost, love focuses on relationship.  Its heart-beat is in humility and a willingness to listen to the beloved, straining to catch each whisper.  Scripture tells us that, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude,” and a love for the wild brings exactly these elements to bear in us.  We learn to be patient and kind with the unknown and with ourselves as we face it.  We learn forbearance and humility in the face of uncertainty.  We even learn delight.  So whether we are excited to adventure and explore, or whether it is thrust upon us, when we love the wild we can grow better into ourselves and into God’s plan for us. Like any habit, the “love of the wild” that teaches and sustains us on our adventures takes practicing.  At Kahdalea and Chosatonga we practice as we grow in our activities and plan for special excursions.  But that practice can be done anywhere—we just have to learn to recognize the opportunities.  The wild is the unknown and challenging; it is not always in the wilderness, but might even be in a visit to a new park, or an outing with friends, or sitting with new people at lunch, signing up for a new class, trying an art project.  In the end, we may even realize that there is wild within us and our neighbors, too: untamed and untamable places in our hearts and minds that we can explore.  The silence and power of encountering the unknown is as real there as it was for me high in the Himalayas — and the adventure promises even more, for no peak climbs to heaven, but we can.  And when we journey within ourselves, we find that no adventure is so great as learning who — and Whose — we are.

Jeff Trufant