How to be Wild and Free (inspired by Virginia Woolf)
All of us desire different things, though many of us desire something similar, something so simple and plain it is almost intangible. I desire freedom; freedom to be creative, to be myself and nature has become my tool to do this.
It’s an initiation, I feel, an initiation into freedom that comes from spending time outdoors, time doing nothing in partiular, time that could be seen as wasted or worthless, and to me is worth more than gold.
Earlier this year I took, what felt like, a decadent afternoon off and swanned around the Tate, St Ives perusing the Virginia Woolf exhibition inspired by her writing. Musing over colours, content and snippets from this evocative novelist, it wasn’t the artworks that caught my eye the most, nor the view.
I found myself buying a ‘must have’ expensive (though beautiful) pencil from the gallery shop and scribbling down notes from the introductory texts introducing each room of the exhibition. It wasn’t the pencil which was a must have, but the memory of the words that I wanted to capture. Word for word, I wrote;
‘In her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915) she directly equates nature and independence when her main character Rachel goes walking outside alone and says: “I love the freedom of it – it’s like being the wind or the sea.”
These two sentences were almost heart-stopping for me. As if Virginia knew me personally, or was writing my destiny decades before I was born. From young adulthood, I was consciously aware how walking and being outside took me ‘somewhere else’. I didn’t know what I was looking for, though I knew that being outside provided a sense of peace, a place of possibilities, and brought lightness to my, sometimes, heavy heart.
Years later, my desire for freedom remains a strong motivator for me to be outside, in nature.
I felt open and free in nature. My mind settled, my inspiration flowed and my vitality increased while at the same time I felt more relaxed and invigorated, or satisfactorily tired. As a child this involved anything from rolling skating up and down our short driveway before breakfast, with the wind on my face enjoying speed and movement, to quiet moments picking flowers or around a campfire. In London it involved slipping into parks and sitting with the statue of Mahatma Ghandi and scanning the flower beds or watching the breeze in the trees.
Actually, it was in London that I became most creative with it. I was desperate. Wild was tame wild there, though the elements all existed and nature could not be shut out completely. I would take time to gaze out of my office window, valuing this essential dream-time and watch the clouds, I would cycle to work along the canal and hear the lions roar from London zoo. At the weekends I would walk through north London housing estates until I reached the canal and find my peace. I would plunge into Hampstead Heath ponds and swim to the edges where I saw my first kingfisher, or amble through Richmond Park and watch the majestic deer. I would sit under a tree, weary on my way home from work, craving that freedom and respite in my bones. How much was my imagination, and how much I gained from those touches of nature I do not know. Though I knew it made a difference, a small difference, and a difference that mattered.
In London I foraged elderberries in my garden, cooked the nettles creeping through the wire fences, and lay in our outdoor hammock after to-ing and fro-ing on the oppressive underground, day in, day out. I think what nature did for me was help me feel connected, connected to something greater, and, most obviously, to my ultimate home. Earth.
It can sound naff. Though it is a fundamental truth, a truth that can turn into a yearning for some of us, or a dulled, distant memory for others. Though who am I to imply that we all have these same desires of having our feet on the real, moist earth, and they are either desires felt or buried?
I could quote you scientific studies that document the benefits on the mind, body and spirit of being in nature, though really, I think you know that, really I think you know it in your bones.
This weekend I sat on the beach, idly moving sand through my fingers, I plucked wild salad leaves from the hedgerow and fed them to myself and my visiting friend. We walked over soft then firm ground, then ground scattered with dried gorse spikes, we laughed, we watched, we closed our eyes and generally got topped up with nature’s cure.
I felt larger, expanded. Yes, free. As dusk arrived we scuttled into a darkened cinema, content that our pores, eyes and sense of self was saturated enough, for now, by the landscape we had immersed ourself in during the day. That for me, is wild and free.
Virginia Wolf wrote those words over one hundred years ago, she wrote from experience, from a felt-sense of how our environment shapes and effects us. More so, how we become the environment, and it becomes us. For me, spending (ideally prolonged) time in nature helps to dissolve the boundaries of me in it or you and me. Instead, I feel part of the landscape, one with the air, the grass, sand and sun. Though I have to say, those 10 idyll seconds watching a cloud out of the window are also precious to me. Wherever I am, I seek freedom through connection, a freedom of being ‘home’ within the environment, changed by it and whatever company accompanies me or crosses my path.
Funny that, wild and free from being connected and home. Thank you Virginia for that deep resonance, reminder and for putting it into words.