“Even the most captured woman guards the place of the wildish self, for she knows intuitively that someday there will be a loophole, an aperture, a chance, and she will hightail it to escape.” — Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I often referred to our house in England as “the house on fairy hill”. I meant that in a pleasant way, in the way that fairy can be pleasant, as long as one doesn’t inspect things too closely. Do that, and you discover the gold in your hands is actually a pile of dead leaves. Inside, our home life was all lovely and warm, but outside were cold, grey streets, faceless houses, and the constant drone of the motorway in the background. There were no wilds for me in England, not unless we got into the car and drove out to find the trees. I was like a selkie bereft of her skin. My wildish self had fallen off like leaves in autumn. One could be forgiven for thinking I didn’t care about such things as forests and seasons and the way the earth smells in the morning. The self that slept contentedly in the Badlands, or climbed the bluffs in bare feet, had been packed away. I suffered, and while it may not be evident, my work suffered, too. My work has always been grounded in wild nature. Take me out of it, and the work loses its foundation. That self wasn’t at all happy. By the end of our time in the UK, that self was positively clawing to get out.
France is my loophole, and yet upon arriving here I began storming through work, ticking things off the list, grooving to the new studio, and merrily acting as though nothing else in my life but the studio had changed. One could say the English motorway was still humming in the background, even though it is almost five hundred miles away. That self was bewildered. “What are you doing? Get away from that computer! There is no motorway, you fool!” And so last week, I stopped everything, walked outside, and in the stillness of this little hamlet, I listened. Finally, I heard not the sound of passing lorries, but of hawks calling to each other as they circled in the sky.
The Free Dictionary offers the perfect definition of the word overwhelm: “To affect deeply in mind or emotion.” Every single time I experience a great change, I pretend that nothing has happened, as though stress can’t touch me, or worry can’t upset me. I try to keep on as though only the exterior differs, as though the interior is this solid core of steel. Of course in my case, there really is a core of steel, and I’ve used my spine of steel in many instances to keep myself emotionally stable in the face of mayhem. At other times this steel forms a cage rather than a support. Since arriving here, that is precisely what it was doing. So I reminded myself that steel is strong, but even it will melt at a high enough temperature. To be overwhelmed is not always a bad thing. The above definition suggests it is sometimes a necessary thing. Last week I listened, and let myself be overwhelmed.
Last week Dis and I built a bonfire that lasted almost six days. I fed it dead brambles, nettles, and even trees. The purging of dead growth revealed an old gate in the crumbling stone wall that borders what will one day be our garden. This took me by surprise — see how the trees have grown through it, preventing passage? Nature is a book that tells us what’s what, if only we know how to read it. That’s how much tangled growth lies between the person I used to be and the person I had become in England. More cutting and burning is required. It’s clear passage I’m craving. It’s of no use to hightail it to the wilds only to run into a gate you can’t cross.
If I am like a selkie, then last week was about finding my old skin, shaking the dust out of it, and fitting back into it again. In other words, allowing the wilds and my new life to affect me deeply in mind and emotion, and finally letting that wildish self out of its cage. Now let’s see what my work and I become.
“The wild nature carries the bundles for healing; she carries everything a woman needs to be and know.” — Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés