Sounds silly doesn’t it? Almost nonsensical. Finding, creating, building a middle ground, a grounding where differences can live side by side, where even theists and non-theists, believers and non-believers could meet and get along and do something good and creative. . .is that possible?
Of course it is.
The ground and grounding is our humanity, our humanness, our common needs on the common earth. Make up a word, like “groundingnessly.” See if that works. How do we describe something that’s wild and strange and not definable?
Does it always make sense? Is it supposed to be “fun” and neat and clean and easy? Give me a break.
I lived in a forest cabin on an island for a few years. The simple life praised by Henry of Walden and John Burroughs of the Catskills. Carried water from a well. Used a waterless compost toilet. Heated the one-room space with wood I cut from fallen alder trees. Closest neighbors were chipmunks and chickadees, owls and coyotes, eagles and herons. Orcas and gray whales swam near the salty shore not far away. I kept busy by not being too “busy” (too much like that “being productive” life on the mainland). Yet, I scribbled a little, the scribbles became those leafy things we call books, carved as they are from thin slices of skin from rooted, grounded, living things.
I became “The Pathfinder.” I worked in the woods, finding or opening paths in the thick woods, at first merely to discover what was out there, to see what no one else was seeing or could see. Hours and days and months, in rain, snow , wind and heat, out in the “overgrown undergrowth” with moss and duff and vines and fallen giants. With frogs and nuthatches and snakes and spiders and teeming silence. A tangled mess of dirt and damp stickery things. A delightful, untamed, untameable mess. And the mess was me.
All this was symbolic, if I thought about it (and I often didn’t, thankfully). Wiping sweat and dust off my face, I would reflect on years in the thick mess of twisted and overgrown humanity. The pain and suffering and lostness of the urban jungle, or at least the suburban savanna. The transition from chaplain of sacred things to a chaplain of secular things simply and naturally grew on me. More of a blending than a transition, a dissolving or dissipation of the spiritual into all things secular. God became Nature, Nature became God and Nature became Nature, enough just to be Nature.
I tried to be careful opening these pathways into whatever. I knew I was harming habitats and their inhabitants but my guiding philosophy was Do No Harm, as ironic as that sounds, and is. It was hard work. Swinging a machete, clipping or sawing branches, digging with a heavy mattock, dragging my muddy boot over rain-softened earth. Clearing winding and twisting paths (never too clear or straight!) to walk in spaces where people never walk. I thought of Muir, old John Muir, bounding into the boundless wilderness, beckoning, “enticing” generations into “Nature’s loveliness.” Opening lands few if any had ever seen. Working hard to protect wild land by drawing people to see it and learn to love it. A double-edge sword though, isn’t it? To conserve and preserve wild places you have to convince people to love, honor and respect those places, so you bring them there, you open the way for them to come for themselves, all the while risking they will see a tree or an animal or the land itself as a “resource” to use and use up. You risk the destruction of the sanctuary when you open the doors, but they must open.
It’s all common ground though, isn’t it? This earth with all its earthiness, is all we have. Some may dream of heavens in the heavens or some other, more beautiful, better world. But how could there ever be such a place? Muir, Burroughs, Thoreau, Emerson and many others have reminded us: We are HOME, here, now, in this wonderful wild place of endless, perhaps “eternal” Beauty. Why would we want more?
All comes back full circle, winding back around on these muddy and misty and sometimes bright warm trails to all that we have and can hope to have. Are we believers or non-believers? Are we women or men, this color or that color, this culture or that? What piece of land on the Big Wet Spinning Rock do we call our “homeland”?
I don’t think this is about thinking “outside the box.” Our challenge is to think Outside. . .out to Nature. . .and into Nature. . .our own nature, that is inseparable from the universe, the cosmos—the Nature “out there” is the Nature “in here,” within. This is our common ground. Dirty and earthy and weird and wonderful as it is.
There really is no “Middle Ground.” There is no middle. It is the ground under our feet. Call it heaven if you wish. But it is a Wild Heaven because it is, and always will be, our common, Wild Home—our cabin in the woods on this Island, not in the middle but on the far edges of space. Where there are, we know, no edges at all.