In our heart of hearts, we seek the untamed places.
I believe that, somewhere deep inside each of us, there is a primal desire to break away from the human pack and run free through the underbrush of some imagined primordial wood.
And yet, despite that inner nature, we have been drawn, collectively, to remake the land in our own image. After ages of effort, we gaze around us and imagine that we have successfully pushed the wilderness out and away, so that it exists in only the most remote of places. We imagine ourselves to be safe and comfortable within our walls, warmed by the glow of our technology.
We are subsumed within ‘the Grid’, caught up within a network of roads, power lines, radio waves, and the uncountable bits of data which stream through us as we go about our busy lives. We exist within ‘the Grid’. We move along its pathways, perpetuating it through uncountable actions that are, to us, simply the basic stuff of living.
Drive home from work, no right on red, cook a meal, watch the news, wash the dishes, take a call, go to bed, turn off the light – we are living in the grid and it lives within us.
And yet, from time to time we seek escape. That spark of wilderness endures within each of us, and it rebels against the constraints of civilization. I suspect that we all feel it gnawing at us, from time to time, and for those of us who see the natural world as an expression of the divine, that drive to reconnect with the natural world may thunder through us with religious fervency.
And so, when we are asked, by outsiders, about where we go to worship, many Pagans will speak of seeking the divine in wilderness settings.
“We don’t need buildings,” we explain to the simple folk, with a lofty air, “because Nature is our Church.”
So let’s take a moment or two to consider ‘the Grid’.
If you’ve been following along with the other posts in this series, you know that I am working toward building a small shrine/temple space in my backyard to replace a large tree that died there.
I’ve spent a lot of time, over the last couple months walking around that yard, trying to envision the proper layout between the space around that tree, my home, and the other features of my property. It occurred to me the other day, that a view from above would be handy, in this planning process, and so it was Google Maps to the rescue.
So, this is where I live. This is a satellite image of my home with a few lines I’ve added after the fact, to more clearly mark the property lines. If you look in the lower third of the lot you will clearly see the deceased tree I’ve told you about.
Looking at this image, the first thing I noticed, of course, was how small everything really is when viewed from a distance. But as I pondered this unusual perspective, I began to think about ‘the Grid’, and about Nature, and Wilderness, and what those words really mean. I began to discover some really beautiful things.
At first it was just a jumble of boundaries and borders; I had to expand my view a little to really see the beauty in it.
This is my neighborhood, its streets and property lines, spread out for several blocks around. I traced these lines myself over a few hours, drawn from an image on that same website.
I can’t stop looking at it. I get lost in the subtle twists and turns of it, the orderly asymmetry as it bends and folds over the contours of the natural landscape. We drive through our neighborhoods and we think of them as artificial spaces which we have imposed upon the landscape. I am forced to wonder if the bee thinks any differently about her hive.
Now let me adjust the filter a bit and we’ll take another look at that same neighborhood:
In this image, everything that is white is natural canopy – trees (mostly) and shrubs, and bushes, and even a hedge or two. You’ll notice that well over 50% of the frame is filled with tree-cover. Now look at that patch in the upper right corner of the image. That is a bit of natural terrain left on the fringes of my neighborhood. This part of Texas is scrub prairie and rolling hills, dotted here and there with trees. But here we have a veritable forest and the happiest squirrels you have ever seen.
Because ‘The Grid’ makes forests! People plant trees, and where they don’t, they build fences where birds rest and literally crap the seeds into the ground.
I was raised in the country, and most of the trees we had, sometimes vast stands of what seemed like primordial old-growth, were actually the result of some farmer’s fence, now long gone and overgrown by time and nature.
And since I’ve moved into town, I have seen more wildlife than I ever did in the country.
Now, this is not to say that pollution and urban sprawl and overcrowding are not problems, in need of our attention. Nor would I claim that wilderness areas and indigenous species do not need our care and protection.
But to assume that we must escape ‘the Grid’ in order to commune with the natural world is blind arrogance. We’re really not that good at having our way, and ‘the Grid’ has as much to do with nature as anything we’ve put together.
If we vanished tomorrow, most of our precious infrastructure would be absorbed back into the landscape within a hundred years – less than the blink of an eye in geologic terms.
Nature, is NOT our church. Nature is the the expression of the divine upon the mortal world, and it surrounds us, wherever we are. I know this is true because even as I sit here, in my artificial environment, doors and windows closed to the outside world, I hear an erratic tapping at the window nearest me. I pull aside the curtain, and there is a tiny bird, shaped like a miniature Bluejay, clinging to the screen and tapping at it madly with his beak.
We look at each other for a moment, and then he flies into the bushes. I come back to my typing, and he starts again. I raise the curtain and with a flutter he is gone, only to return the moment I begin to lower the curtain again. We keep at it and now two more birds (finches, I think) have joined in the game. I need to get this post done, and these little birds are playing with me! And now I’ve told you about them, and in their own feathered way, they have contributed to the grid.
This is the fourth post in a series following my progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property. If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.