Becoming Wild

Meadow12

May 28, 1986

We drive through the night to the Cleveland Clinic. My uncle, my mother, and me. Something about Grandpa, but I know he will be okay. God wouldn’t take him from us. Not after everything else that has happened. I will have to make up final exams, but I don’t care. Next week, I will be out of that hellhole for good. My chest tightens. Mom still hasn’t recovered from her breakdown. Who will watch over the kids when I leave? But I will die if I stay in that town.

We arrive too early for visiting hours. I curl up on the couch in the waiting room. Behind my closed eyes, a dream materializes. I’m in the meadow, sitting under a tree that doesn’t exist in reality. My boyfriend is next to me. Rich green summertime shade. Grandpa runs towards us. He’s wearing a red flannel shirt and blue jeans that are rolled up to his calves. He is barefoot. He smiles down at me. The heaviness of life is gone from his eyes. “Grandpa! What are you doing here? You’re dead.” His eyes twinkle. The sweet smile I know so well. The one he uses when he’s teasing. “I’m not dead. I’m only sleeping.”

My mother’s long fingers grip my shoulders and shake. A voice contorted with sobs. Wake up. It’s time. Down a long gray corridor and into a white room. The click of machines shutting down. Say goodbye to Grandpa. Tell him you love him. A chest under a sheet rises, falls, and is still.

meadow05

I run my hands over the thick, rough bark. It’s called a willow oak, I think. Thirty-two years have passed and here you are. In the same exact place as in the dream. The only tree that has grown in the meadow after all this time. I lean my back against the trunk, its chest. The pulse of a heartbeat. The warmth of life flowing through veins. Awareness. Strong hands on my shoulders. I’ve got you. I sigh and smile. Wow. This feels good. I’ve got you. Three words I’ve never heard. I’ve never had a protector. Dad was submerged in psychosis, and Mom was blinded by despair. Even Grandpa was vague with his support. Be strong was the mantra I inherited. You’re the oldest. Your family needs you.

It was always me: taking care of the family, then myself, then the people in my life. I no longer feel any self-pity or the need to blame. I adapted, as everything thing does to its environment. What began as necessity became the perfect hiding place. It was so easy to take advantage of the fact that most others are too superficial or too focused on their own pain to make the effort to see behind exteriors.

There’s a difference between vulnerability and neediness. Let it all go. I’ve got you.

meadow02

We each have a place on this Earth where our personal story unfolds in symbols. A place that holds our souls. The harmony that would reign, if only everyone knew theirs. Mine is a humble meadow tucked into a forest. It claimed me during early childhood explorations. I found it while wandering down the railroad tracks near the cottage that Grandpa built. Tracks that have long since been torn up and replaced by a bike path. I used to lie here, amid the wildflowers, and let myself fall through the sky. I carried this sacred space with me everywhere I roamed. My mother says she’s always felt my presence so strongly here, even when I was on the other side of the planet. One day, my ashes will sink into this dirt with the rain.

meadow03

May. The borderland between spring and summer. That beautiful time of fresh, green warmth before the mosquitoes have awakened. The divine bleed of the aurora borealis through the night sky. Shooting stars streak through the undulating curtain of green and violet. Celestial fireflies. Heart in my throat. The glow ascends, vanishing into the darkness. Delivering my wish to Heaven.

Meadow14

Let go of who you believed you were. I circumambulate the meadow, scattering the ashes of my former life. The labels. Those devastating weapons of mass division. I pass by patches of daisies and the depressions in the tall grass where the deer bed down for the night. These are my signposts. Now that I’m just a human named Julie. Liminal space is the most unsettling of territories. But it is here, in this emptiness, where I thrive.

meadow07

A solstice sunrise. I lift my face to the gentle rays. Shine your light through me. Show me what you want me to do now. I’m yours.

The time has come to reveal yourself. No more hiding.

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And now, your eclipse. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. No more hiding, anything.

meadow04

When I’m in the realm of schedules and conformity, I fulfill duties with a smile. I’m a good-natured imposter. After work, I slip away, evading invitations. Home, down the trail, and into my sanctuary. In this loving shade, I let my imagination out to play. A tiny white spider crawls up my arm. I smile down at her and lean back against my tree. Notebook on my knees. Namibia, the lions. This is what happened: a safari, a childhood backyard expedition. Bring them together. Words buzz around my head. I catch them in my web. Messy, incoherent scrawls in the notebook. I look down at it and shake my head. Somehow I will decipher and arrange it all. Just like I always do. The sun slips behind the forest. I raise my arm, but Spider has moseyed along. Prismatic strands encircle my arm, casting tiny rainbows in the fading light.

The other world of disharmony and hopelessness fades. The world in which we are systematically led to believe that we are losing. Agitated chatter fizzles into static which dissipates into silence. Then the symphony begins.

Nature speaks in symbol and metaphor. An atavistic communication that transcends words and seeps directly into the subconscious. The sigh of a warm summer breeze through the treetops. The ripple of heat in the distance. The slow drift of clouds across the blue expanse. In this world, we are winning.

That other world can only be healed by rediscovering this one. And it is calling out to us.

It’s the same little haven, but every day is different. The sun’s trajectory, the dance of insects, the wildflowers in various stages of growth and decline. Petals unfurl, bask, and slowly shrivel up. A butterfly pirouettes in the space before me. A purple shimmer in his brown wings. So many iridescent wings this year: butterflies and dragonflies. Symbols of total transformation. I put down my pen and hold out my hand. He comes to rest and lingers while I take a video. Could it be he’s showing off?

Meadow13

I trail behind the morning mist as it billows into the forest. The sun peers over the treetops. Hundreds of tiny spiderwebs glitter in the dawn light. They are only visible when illuminated from this sharp angle. Spellbound, I lower myself into the grass. Dew soaks into my jeans. Yet another dreamscape I’ve traversed. This one came during my years in Bratislava, I think. A beige fog rolled away, revealing innumerable spiderwebs in various stages of completion. The Presence by my side. These are all of your stories: written, in the process of being written, and those yet to be conceived.

meadow08

An annoyed snort jolts me back to the present. A herd of deer have lined up on the periphery. I am in the way. They scamper back and forth for several minutes. The snorts intensify. Then they bound into the forest.

Two mornings later. Same place. A rustle to my left. A fawn. So close that I can see her eyelashes. Our eyes are mirrors of innocent curiosity.

meadow09

I am becoming wild, again. Feathers, flowers, stones, bones. Life, death. Resurrection. I tuck the feathers I find along my path into a pocket of bark. Thank you for being here. For existing. Hang my crown of thistles on a branch. When I wander back to the cottage, humming to myself, forget-me-nots woven into my hair, my mother doesn’t greet me with a frown or raised eyebrows or a look of alarm. Instead, a soft smile lights up her gentle face. “You look so pretty.”

Meadow10a

Awe is love on the precipice of fear. With the bones and stones, I construct a wheel in the soil. A dreamcatcher, a spiderweb. The Native Americans call it a medicine wheel. With each piece buried, I reassemble my existence. I begin to understand how the facets of life work together. The very one that seems unimportant and irrelevant often must be fulfilled before others can be aligned. What we don’t think we want is exactly what we need.

From the other world, a bony finger beckons. Grim Reaper of the soul. A job in an East Coast city. An admirable career. Return to the safety of anonymity and isolation. There will be no energy left for spinning words, but I will be too distracted and exhausted to miss it.

The familiar squeeze on my shoulder. How you support yourself is no longer important. It is time to live your passion. I wrap my arms around the trunk. Yes. Only that which sets me aflame can lure me away from this wonderland. Or maybe I’ll just disappear here. No one will notice. A slight pulling away. For my own good. You can’t hide away from that other world forever. It needs you. And I will always be here for you.

meadow06

What seems like magic is the most natural thing of all. We have forgotten that we are part of Nature. I’ve simply allowed myself to remember. How to listen and observe, how to ask for answers, how to integrate what I learn. Through this communion, I shed layers of conditioning, unravel patterns, grasp subtle differences in meaning. Sensations seep into my dreams. A raven becomes a wizened old Chippewa guide. The aurora becomes angels heralding a beautiful apocalypse. Celebrating my victory. You’ve had the guts to jump into the void. You deserve nothing less than the miraculous.

The dragonflies disappear, then the butterflies. Even the bumblebees eventually die. Spiderwebs are abandoned. At the very end of summer, after all hope has vanished: rain. Sky blanketed in gray. I lie in the center of the wheel. Deep breath. I think I’m just about ready. Drizzle tickles my face. Excited motion just above. A second batch of dragonflies has hatched. Dozens hover overhead, never touching the Earth.

Meadow15

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again” -Joseph Campbell

98 thoughts on “Becoming Wild

  1. I’m so glad that you let me write a postcard about how you affect me. (I wished to do so before but comments were always locked. Was I only too late? Do you lock comments with time?)

    It’s not just that there is a field and I’ll meet you there, the whole world is that field and all the words are growing there and you pick some and I pick some others and everybody gets to pick theirs and in this way we can live longer.

    And it feels as if it was you who had planted it. Thank you!

    • Hi MMM – I close comments on all posts but the most recent. The latest one is always open. Thank you so much for your insights about my words. All of our bouquets are unique and so very beautiful. 💚

  2. I never know where to begin to comment on your posts; if feels so “one-way” and I have so many things I want to discuss! (That days-long back-and-forth is what was so great about my floating isolation with Lisa this past summer.) As always, I’ll just say that you get at the insides of things so well and that much of it resonates with me while some is totally foreign. Both are thought-provoking.

    This line: “What began as necessity became the perfect hiding place” is the story of my life. I wonder when I will feel free enough to just be Lexie and not the person I am expected and needed (there I go again) to be for younger and older generations of family and friends. I think I still like my hiding spot most of the time, and I fear that coming out of it would shatter many of the connections I have. Maybe you could tell me differently. More likely it doesn’t work the same for everyone.

    Very happy to see you back here.

    • Hi Lexie – It’s particularly difficult for us INFJ types to let go of the need to be needed. It’s part hiding our vulnerability and also partly a way to try to control our world. I’ve gotten to the point where I totally don’t care if revealing my true self shatters connections. If that’s the case, then they weren’t healthy anyway. A true connection will accept you for who you really are and respect your boundaries. No matter what. It took me a very long time to get there, and I let go of a lot of people. But a lot of people stayed, too. In fact, more people want to be around me than ever before. Too many. Haha. One of the biggest lies we’re taught is that being a good person means that we have to help everyone before ourselves. It’s a tough concept to understand, but taking care of yourself first is the key to truly helping and loving others.

  3. So many beautiful words, images and photos. Your meadow is so welcoming each time you need to find that peace, quiet and awe. To hear the words, “I’ve got you” is powerful beyond words. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I’m one for whom poetry is wasted, yet this is the closest I’ve come in seeing the point of it. Thanks Julie.

    “We each have a place on this Earth where our personal story unfolds in symbols”. This phrase really resonated in me, because… well, I haven’t. I love the meadow in the forest that is yours, and I’d love to have something of that kind but… I don’t think I do. Perhaps the closest I can get to it is a feeling; the feeling of Bilbo Baggins when he closes the door ahead of the big adventure. I had it when I walked the dog and I get it every now and then when I’m about to start a journey.

    Thanks again, Julie.

    Fabrizio

    • Thank you, Fabrizio. I believe you haven’t found that place yet. Like so many. You’ll know it when you do. It will just feel right. In the meantime, you’ve got The Road, which brings another kind of peace.

  5. “We each have a place on this Earth where our personal story unfolds in symbols. A place that holds our souls.” A profound confirmation of a journey well lived. The idea of becoming brings us to the core of our existence. It is singular, mystical, comforting. Most of all it is our call to action to live abundantly. You included one of my favourite Joseph Campbell quotes, which goes along with this one: “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” Joseph Campbell. May we embrace the symbols and experiences that have been given. A wonderful post and discussion.

    • Oh, that quote. Mr. Campbell was such a gift to humanity, wasn’t he. I have had so much confirmation of this lesson the past few days. Making a profound difference in certain individuals’ lives without doing anything but just being around them. So much more effective than preaching or ignoring my own needs and allowing myself to be depleted. I always appreciate your insight, Rebecca. Thank you.

      • I agree wholeheartedly! I look forward to every one of your posts, which I always go back a second time to enjoy the follow-up discussions that come from belonging to a compassionate community.

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  7. As always- a gem. I once had a meadow too – I came upon it after wandering through the woods behind the house my family owned for a few years. There was never anyone else there and I felt all the things you described so exquisitely. I’ve experienced flashes like that again but never quite the immersion of that sweet place lived through the seasons. Thanks for sharing yours!

    • There’s something magical about discovering a meadow in the forest. It’s like wandering through a mansion and finding a hidden room filled with curiosities. Not surprised you had one, too.

    • It sure is, and, yes, everyone should try to find theirs if they haven’t already. Those encounters, and others I didn’t mention, left me speechless. Nature wants to communicate with and accept us as part of it. We only need to allow ourselves to sit and be with it. I fully intend to continue.

  8. I’m reminded of a comment you made in my blog a few posts ago, “Well…finally a photo of you.” But while it’s nice to finally see the face behind the words, I think it’s the words that provide the deeper image.

    Have you read any Tom Robbins? There are aspects of your poetic imagery that brought his style to mind.

    The green circle by the tree must be a fairy circle, inviting in fairies and other creatures of the natural world. In your words I see Snow White, or Alice in Wonderland, cavorting around the meadow, attracting butterflies, singing birds, and Bambi. And they all lived happily ever after.

    • Haha. We’ve both come out of the shadows. Feels good, doesn’t it? I’ve read a couple of Tom Robbins books. I enjoy his psychedelic use of language, but the stories I read got on my nerves after a while. Anyway, I take your comparison as a compliment. That green circle is very mysterious. There’s a hole there. Not very deep, but in all these decades it hasn’t disappeared. I think my tree came from there. And it’s also where my mind goes chasing after white rabbits 🌈🐇 Thank you for such a lovely comment.

  9. Becoming wild and becoming happy. I’m glad you are no longer wishing you were here, but actually are. Thank you for your writings which I hope will inspire others. Yes, the selfies prove you’re no longer hiding. 🙂

    • If someone had told me,even just a year ago, that I’d be taking selfies and sharing them publicly, I wouldn’t have believed it. 🙂 Thank you for traveling along with me for all of these years.

  10. You certainly know how to evoke the power of nature which can heal all pain and chaos. Hard to grow up as the caretaker of others, I know that this is a heavy burden to deal with but it sounds like you have worked hard to come to terms with it. How wonderful that you have a sacred magical place that you can hold in your heart and return to and is so evocative of you.

    Peta

    • There is no better medicine than Nature. Being back here for this past year has been so incredibly therapeutic. My bond with this place has only deepened and it will be by my side, guiding and supporting me, if ever I take off again.

  11. Nice pictures and famous words Julie ! I agree with Chuck : Brian Eno and Harold Budd….please also listen to the LP : Pearls….one of my all time favourit music …All the best for you ! Kind regards, Jürgen

  12. Oh, Julie. I am so moved by this post that the tears are so thick in my eyes I’m having trouble seeing my screen. Your words and what you describe in the “true” world is exactly how I feel as well, and this is where above all else, I prefer to be. Another Nature Girl whose connection is Sacred and beyond the tethers of this illusionary material world. Nature is where Life is, and it is within that Connection we find ourselves. Now I understand why you would be carrying stones around in your pocket. OH I get it! Bless you for being YOU! Thank you for not allowing this insane material world to derail you of your preciousness. And thank you for helping me motivate myself to find my JOY again in Mother and my camera. Bless you from the bottom of my Heart. I just am not able to stop crying ……

    • Of course you understand. 😊 I don’t even hear it anymore when people say I should live in the real world. Don’t even care if they look down on me for turning my back on it. None of that matters anymore. No more allowing myself to be distracted by the insanity that masquerades as real life – the outrage and hopelessness. Thank you for being you, too, my dear. It’s good to know I’m not alone. 💚

      • I have lost family and friends AND have gotten scoffed at due to the way I choose to live and be. It gives me great HOPE that more “like me” are out in the world, refusing just refusing to allow this insane world to dictate to them to live in the insanity. When I am with my camera and with my cats or just in my gardens, I am HOME. I am SO touched by your honesty and by your sincerity. Bless you for first finding you and then, secondly, not letting go of you. 💝💝💝

  13. What a sacred space you’ve found for yourself, Julie. Wonderful to be so free! There’s magic in following your footsteps. Thank you for being a part of my world. Sending hugs 🙂 🙂

  14. Always read your posts more than once to savour the beautiful writing of nature and self. Love the metaphors and symbols using nature. It’s so important to have these places for healing, for an anchor, for rejuvenation and for memory. As personal as it is to you, it’s wonderful for us to read and appreciate how it echoes on our own lives.

    • Thank you, Alex. I’m very protective of this place and didn’t think I’d ever write about it. Then I realized that it may help others understand the need to seek a place of their own, for the very reasons you mentioned.

  15. As I said before – I totally loved your comment about “Let it all go. I’ve got you.” I was able to transmit those words to someone this past weekend. For a brief moment in time, a woman I met in an elevator was in a safe place. We all need that, don’t we?

    • Yes, we do. And those who appear to be the strongest are those who need to hear it the most. So good of you to have helped that woman when she needed it. 💚

  16. It’s true Julie: places holds our souls. And it’s just magic. We too are a part of Nature, even if we seem to not care, it’s like we easy forget about this…beautiful words as always. Cris

    • Thank you, Cris. There’s so much useless noise, such a distraction. Nature is waiting for us to reclaim our true place in the world. All we need to do is let her magic in again. 🙂

    • Salut mon ami- Some cultures believe that it’s a departed loved one visiting, but I’m not sure if the Chinese are among them. I focused on it being a Native American symbol of transformation, but now you’ve given me more to think about. 🙂

      • Salut ma grande! 🙂 I’m almost positive. I think it was Michael Lai from HK. Maybe I’ll ask him if I remember next time I visit. Regardless, it is a pretty “myth”. After all humans have invented myths since day one to try and explain the unexplicable: i.e. the world, life, what have you. A+

  17. Gorgeous imagery. I used to live in that space where I was “too distracted and exhausted” to spin words. That world continues to beckon as the only “real” one so often. Enjoy returning to the wild.

  18. i’m happy there’s
    a liberated subject, JD.
    somewhere
    a place for you & yours
    safe to reminisce,
    free to feel
    your bliss
    & express it
    with excellence 🙂

  19. Lovely, Julie. I always leave your reflections inspired–more deeply aware of who I am than when I arrived, with a molten heart and a quiet center. For this I am grateful. Thank you…

    Michael

  20. Julie, another brilliant masterpiece ~ you take the reader by the hand as we float through your world. You have a gift, a powerful one.

    Don’t know if you could have picked a better song, “There I was with the old man, stranded again so off I’d ran…” Tough to write when the Wilson sisters are controlling my mind 🙂 but even Ann and Nancy could not have penned “There’s a difference between vulnerability and neediness. Let it all go. I’ve got you.” Finding your secret place, a sanctuary, where through all the voices of confusion you can now become wild again.

    Both your words and photos paint the scene of your post ~ “the brighter the light, the deeper the shadows” ~ simply beautiful, the words and the photos. You’ve got so much life behind you that it must also be exciting to see all the potential that lies ahead as well ~ and for you returning back to your sacred place, safe in the trees to get back into balance. It seems you are letting nature take you away back into the wild. Not a bad idea. My goal is to become wild as well this year, as you say “You’ve had the guts to jump into the void. You deserve nothing less than the miraculous.” I want the miraculous too 🙂 Take care, and enjoy the magic spring brings.

    • Ha. Why am I not surprised that you caught the significance of the song? It chose me and not the other way around. One of the last nights working my winter job, it came on the jukebox. The post was pretty much written, but I had set it aside for a few days before doing the final edit. I hadn’t heard the song in many years, possibly decades. The lyrics were so right. All of it so hypnotic. It felt like the Universe was singing it in my ear. I wanted it to never end.

      Allowing myself this time to just be, without trying to force an « admirable » future into existence, is the greatest gift I have ever given myself. I’ve somehow reached a point where my mind seems to process things like a child, very spontaneous and playful, but there’s an emotional maturity that keeps me from being naive, needy or self-absorbed. It’s a very powerful combination. I still get thrown off balance at times, but it doesn’t take long to get back on track. The past has little control over me anymore, and the future is a beautiful, fertile void. Every moment is a vibrant surprise.

      I have no doubt that you will reclaim your wild self, Dalo. You are so close, on the precipice. A place that so few reach, so few even know it exists. That big step can be terrifying and there’s no going back. But it’s nothing that you can’t handle.🙂

      The miraculous is already with you. Right there, hiding in plain sight. Now it’s up to you to let it in.

      Hope you’re having a delightful spring, wherever you are.🍀💚🌱

      • I too had not heard the song in years, and great to have heard it in a perfect setting. Yes, I think you are well on your way to becoming fully wild again ~ a great outlook too “the future is a beautiful, fertile void” just like it should be. Agree ~ the miraculous is always just right in front of us all, just got to reach out and grab it. Cheers to a great week ahead ~

        • Never know what’s going to emerge from that void, that kaleidoscope of evolving dreams – an unexpected crazy beautiful opportunity, the perfect song, a long lost treasure, a dream that brings much-needed clarity, a spontaneous flood of peace and certainty that all is well though on the surface it appears not to be. Every little thing is a signpost leading the way to Destiny. No choice but to follow the road- heart fiercely open, soul aflame. Thank you for reading and sharing your insights, Dalo. Always so appreciated. Wishing you a week full of beautiful surprises. Take care.

  21. You never fail to make me feel a range of emotions with every one of your paragraphs. When I grow up, I want to write like Julie Riso! I ‘feel’ like you write but somehow, I need a lot of work to capture emotions at the depth that you do. And the wisdom in your statement ‘That other world can only be healed by rediscovering this one. And it is calling out to us’ sent chills up my spine.

    I wonder Is it possible to have two places on this earth that hold one’s soul? One of mine of course is the sea, but the other is much older, traipsing through the wooded ravines that ended at the shores of Lake Michigan, my childhood home. I seem to be able to channel that place in many other wooded areas in the world and in the process am transported back to my inner ‘5-year-old’ Do you have any other places that evoke the same feelings as your humble meadow in the forest?

    And here is what cracks me up. Very belatedly, I discovered Joseph Cambell. Too distracted by shiny silver things in 20s, 30s, and 40s, I discovered him when I went to sea and felt like I’d found an old friend/mentor. As I was reading your post I thought to myself, I wonder if Julie knows Joseph…and then I saw your closing quote and realized that you do indeed.

    PS – Daisies are my favorite flower.

    • Aw, thanks, Lisa. It’s taken me many years of consistent writing to find my voice. I’m totally self-taught. But I have my doubts that any art form can be taught. You can learn techniques, but the divine spark of inspiration can only come from within. Just keep writing, a lot. Your voice will become clearer.

      I do believe that we can have more than one soul place. I think we have one special small place that’s just for us, like your ravines, and then there are other places that we share with others. There’s a place in my region – Sturgeon Bay – that locals all go to when they need to get centered. There are the famous places like Bali and Sedona, both so powerful. Sossusvlei in Namibia, Easter Island, ancestral land on the Polish/Slovak border, the Atacama Desert (altiplano/Andes) in Chile, and Prague (I think cities can be part of our souls, too) will always have a special place in my heart and soul.

      So funny about Mr Campbell. I recently rediscovered him. First read him many years ago when I was studying Cultural Anthropology at college. My focus was on myth and legend. Endlessly fascinating and he is a treasure.

      Daisies are nature’s smiles. 🙂

  22. Yes mesmerising was exactly what I was thinking too. The way your story weaves in and out of the past and present. Capturing your life and even the craft of your writing. I listened to the song. Perfect. I love the wind chimes at the end. You are very talented. Louise

  23. I wandered on over from Lisa’s post about Sossusvlei and fell into your soft beautiful meadow world. How lovely it is to touch the sky. And to touch others with your words and images. Thank you.
    Alison

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