I picked my way carefully back to the beach from my quickly-disappearing sandbar fishing perch. I was barefoot, broken shells littered the sandy bottom, and I’d seen more than a handful of jellyfish washing in with the waves. What’s more, I’d seen one of those ancient and spooky-looking creatures called the horseshoe crab. Who knew what I would step on?
Back in Atlanta, our idea of “nature” was some oak trees and gray squirrels. Now that I’m near an ocean again, I see how the urban idea of nature can be. This place is teeming with life, a fact of which you’re all the more aware when your feet are bare and you’re at some risk of a bite or a sting or a pinch from unknown quarters.
This spooky feeling – of entering a new level of closeness with nature and nature’s dangers – is something I’ve only ever felt a few times, like when I ran a section of the Appalachian Trail in the dark (past a place called Indian Grave Gap, I might add) while fearing black bears (only a small risk, but still). If that’s what being “in the wild” feels like, it’s a too rare mental state, and it shows our many nature preserves and trails to be too tame for the adrenaline seeker.
Again we might look to the endless and unbounded spaces left to us, like the ocean or large tracts of wilderness. These are the only places big enough to carry the spooky things, like grizzly bears and crocodiles and mollusks/crustaceans from the age of the dinosaurs.
That’s wildness for you. Evolution/God didn’t make everything safe and comfortable for us. To be in nature in a serious way is to come face to face with unfamiliar monsters as well as familiar things.