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Season of Creation: Wilderness (Erika Dornfeld)

When people ask me where I’m from, I have a hard time answering that question. It’s more of a paragraph than the single name of a place. I often lead off with “I’m from North Idaho.”  Our long skinny valley had the Rockies on either side of it. Our house sat on a rim above those two rivers where they joined and flowed south through the rest of the valley. If you went upstream one, you eventually got to Canada. If you went upstream on the other, you’d end up in Montana. I don’t know how long that would take by river, but neither were more than 20 miles away.

However, if we’re talking my childhood, well then I’d talk about the high desert plains of Wyoming.  There, I was always able to see the unbroken horizon. Where I saw crowds of people Far less often than I saw crowds of antelope.

Then I lived in Western Washington, nestled between rocky intertidal beaches and temperate rainforest. And of course, there’s those places my family now calls home I visit often, the coast of Oregon or the woods of NW Montana.

So it’s hard for sometimes to say just where Home is for me.

What IS clear to me though, in those moments of reciting where I’m from, is that I have always lived in close proximity to Wild places. To vast expanses of nature. I didn’t quite appreciate that until my daily life was removed from them, living in Chicago. My proximity to those kinds of places has grounded me in a way that is hard to describe. However that is the nature of a testimony so I shall try.

I think of wilderness as nature in its most: uncontrollable, beautiful, lethal, self-sustaining, awesome. And I LOVE the wilderness. (I know that’s not true for everyone, but it certainly is true for me) I love all of those elements of it. All of those bundled together makes me feel so alive. I feel so Alive–I think—because I feel so FREE. Free, Able  to shed the cares of my everyday. Different worries and stressors are put to scale in my mind. They become small. Because out there, it’s so utterly apparent that what is Truly large and worthy of my attention is what’s all around me.

When I am in the wilderness, I am at Peace. That doesn’t mean  I dissolve into blissful forgetfulness of my troubles or humanity’s troubles or the planet’s troubles. Certainly those are still with me. But nevertheless I am at alive and feel a deep peace. Because the mountains, the rivers, the valleys, the plains: they do not judge. They simply are. Neither do they have a bar for me to reach. There’s no expectation me to perform to a certain standard of excellence–or else. They neither judge nor praise.

In the wilderness I am free because both my faults AND my success fade away from me. What matters isn’t what I’m capable of, or what I’m not. I can forget the fear of failure and the pressure to succeed. I am freed from the fallacy that such things define me. There I am defined by just being one creature among many.

What a gift that is. How all too rare it is becoming. There’s a lot that could be said about why that’s rare and how this is shifting fundamentally. But I want to push myself to focus on that feeling of peace and freedom. The original lesson of the wild for me.

I think the biggest thing that being in the wilderness teaches me is this weird way of thinking about yourself. It’s my Christian way of thinking. Now this is not something I really say about myself–“my Christian way of thinking.” That makes me very uncomfortable to say. But that freedom to be as the truth of who who are–being a beloved child of God—makes the most sense to me There, in the wilderness. That I  am of value for because I am, not because I do  X, Y, or Z. And it’s in those places where I can very honestly say “Yes” to that identity. I get it.

And then, I feel home.

-Erika Dornfeld

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