Running Engagement: The Wandering Arrows of Ecology


“The relentless complexity of the world is off to the side of the trail…The path is not where you walk for long…The whole range of items that fulfill our needs is out there. We must wander through it to learn and memorize this field.” (Snyder, 1990, p.145)

“We were here because we were curious, as all wild creatures are—curious to feel ourselves change, our bodies stretching and conforming until we were no longer the people we had once been.” (Childs, 2004 )

“The perfect way is without difficulty. Strive hard!” (Snyder, 1990, p.45)

This essay is a bit of a skirmish and its intention seems different than my own. It wants to pierce and poke holes, feather through and reach something, therefore its necessary wrath. And in its outrage the arrows may wander, not completely accurate in their aim. “The arrows fall where they will, we can only follow.” (Hillman, 1989, p.211) But then Cupid had his own misfires, letting loose to the greater forces that prevail. So seven arrows to attempt the heart’s-eye…

1st Arrow: The old adage that “one cannot escape themselves” is exactly what we need to do. At least escape long enough to quell our shadows through errancy. A long wandering is in effect, the Drift, a running back into ourselves: our ancestral predisposition of Hunting and Gathering, our innate capacity to move with the rhythms of the earth. Ecopsychology is an attempt at this yet it is still caged. It is not yet radical, and in many ways, we need a revolutionary ecopsychology, led by the land itself. True wandering is led by the land and until we re-enter our bodies and literally follow the terrain that calls us forth, ecopsychology will remain a fenced field, an academic eddy, another recycled box.

Yet wandering goes against everything that is apparently fixed, societies conventions and baselines, the agriculturalists sense of rootedness, the traditional hearth. It is not for everybody but it does explain a dire restlessness that creeps within us, the homeless, the drifters, wayfarers, vagabonds, travelers, seekers, rovers, seafarers, itinerants, jet-setters, extremists and the like. Surprisingly, in some ways technology is unconsciously beginning to address this behavior through such things as roaming connectivity and the Internet (re-linking). It is also true that the days of the lone wanderer myth may be coming to a close as we gather up tribes to learn what a wandering community might be capable of in ecological activism (and what exactly is ecological activism?). Ecological crisis is asking for psyche to now move with a new earth-wise intent. The only way to address the ecological unraveling that has us as a humans species endangered, and which is still earthed in denial, is to breach the bounds of a straight-jacketed civilization, to shatter ownership since “ownership shatters ecology” (metaphorically, literally) and to navigate with the trade winds of our ancestral imagination, our deep nomadism, in a way that blends with our current modernity. Therefore this essay may seem subversive, idealistic, glorifying the wandering psyche, letting fly feathered arrows to pierce civilizations tough armor and thick skin, to open up our fearful hearts.

In the following, we will scout through the territories of disconnected wandering, true wandering, the wandering psyche, wandering activism and wandering community. Through this write of passage I hope to carry some of the sacredness of longing back, to honor Odysseus’ painstaking trials through the mosaic of isles, relight a blue fire on Samothrokai— this island of pothos and wandering initiation, glimpse some ancient pathways with modern eyes, and finally to give praise and grief to all who find themselves chosen or unchosen, playing out this reality, marked by it, at odds with the homes we so long for within people and places, and to which we have so much trouble getting back to.

2nd Arrow: Disconnection. American culture has a heavy eighteen-wheel pride in its road system, this highway system, these interstates, and freeways—an echo of Roman radiation, paved symbols of conquest. Certainly without it we would not have reached many of the intricacies of landscape we do meet. It has obviously had its dangers too, opening up territory to the mechanical arms of extractive and abusing industry, paving over and rearranging the land itself. As the wolf packs of motorcycle clubs and the herds of RV retirees feel this system as a “freedom” of wandering, something else is roaring at our “forgetting”: we are confined. Confined to the road. On the “freeway” we can only enter and exit at designated ramps. We are banked and channeled. We give up our capacity to actually wander seduced by the simple freedom of movement within a predetermined speed. We are still cramped in our lifestyle, limited by our economy of fuel. In National Parks we follow trails blindly; we have sacrificed our ability to be led by anything other then human construct. This is a continually restrictive experience. We feel wrong, outlawed, fearful, guilty for taking a step off these preordained paths. This is not freedom. This is disconnected wandering, stilted, illusionary, stopped. A herd mentality. Even with the massive spider web of roads that net this country, we only experience a fraction of the land. The ground between concrete threads is extensive and invisible from the car window; how can it exist in the road warrior’s eyes? It is an unremembered a dream. The country is seen through the directives of civilization, hence this quiver full of discourse, hence a disconnected psyche.

Commuter traffic, gridlock, the modern anxiety of driving. How do we stop off to sleep so we are not paying into the corporate road system of hotels and motels? This is difficult. If you sleep within your car in city limits you subject yourself to the midnight flashlight in your eyes, the cops kicking you out, asking you to leave. What is that? No wonder wandering is felt as a curse. We are stuck within the machinations of an industrial and rational psyche that fears rupture within a system locked tight in the fear of (blessed) change. Certainly the problem is much more complex than can be articulated but how can we judge ourselves a free society when our movements are controlled by ownership and its abiding laws? How does this affect our psyche? We have trapped ourselves, kept ourselves from the hunter/gatherer instinct, seeded ourselves in road rage and violence. And as population remains explosive we only further ignite a relentless angst, feeling the bite of the barbed wire. Shepard would argue that our agrarian society, as important as it is, was where we strayed from the hundred of thousands of years of our innate drifting and conscious foraging (the end of the Pleistocene). But it is not that we should do away with our agrarian culture but rather without a relearning of the wandering psyche how could we creatively blend with the current proclivities of human, other, and earth? All have gifts to bear. Could we have an agriculture that follows the land in its nativeness and patterning, rather than imprinting the land forcing it into an alien pattern? Can we work for the land rather than having it work for us?

Disconnection is a widespread human condition and has bled into wandering, the very thing that reconnects and keeps a system in flux, in riverine flow. We consider ourselves wanderers in a free American society. Not true. Blatant denial. We are a façade. This innate restlessness, a shallow enactment, is the deep, deep longing that is wandering, a flowering pothos, the larkspur kiss that has us groping in dusty wanderlust and aching in painful displacement. This has our younger generations x’ed, dazed and confused, ganged up, crippled in angst, raging in an indefinable imprisonment. We have lost respect for our innate wisdom just as we have lost respect for our older generations.

3rd Arrow: As disconnected wandering seems a to be a modern affliction, it also mirrors a waning ecology, a diminishment and fragmentation of species echoing our island geographies, electric fenced fields, cities encircled by roaring beltways, the quietly painful autism of education, and the attention deficit disorder of politics. Looking outward from civilizations defenses, how might the land actually lead us? Or more accurately, how can it redirect our aim? How can we step forward, back into our innate and placed wisdom? What is true wandering?

The Kalahari Bushmen follow lightning, as they know it will lead them to the precious water left by rainstorms and its accompanying thunder. The Polynesians without technological navigation devices followed the stars in the night sky, and sensed the wind and water currents to branch into the vastness of the South Pacific Islands in probably the Greatest Migration of ancient times. The Aborigines of Australia sing the songs of the land, these myths written into the terrain, to travel their country from the interior Outback to the Queensland coast. Trackers follow animals, the ghosted poetry of prints patterning out into land. Butterflies follow the vibrant colors of flowers. Hunter/Gatherers were engaged to the Other’s movements, blending themselves into the flow of the land. These are not idealized, archaic, magic, or primitive practices; they are an embodied and alert wisdom at its full capacity and intelligence. A practiced skill. An art.

Though there are many naturalists that support the idea that we must be rooted to place, of which I agree, we must not do it at the expense of wandering. We must not blind ourselves to the geographies that radiate outward and are always embracing us in some way. “In some of us maybe [wandering] is a genetic splinter…one that is necessary for the survival of species. It says to a certain number of us—Go—find what is out there, know what is out there, become what is out there.” (Childs, 2004 ) We were not born with roots like trees and plants. We are human born with two feet: bipedal, the movement archetype: this running engagement with an earth; this psyche that is a running engagement.

True wandering is about both responding inwardly by outwardly moving towards those things that call, and by responding outwardly by moving inwardly toward those things that call. “Our skills and works are but tiny reflections of the wild world that is innately and loosely orderly. There is nothing like stepping away from the road and heading into a new part of the watershed. Not for the sake of newness, but for the sake of coming home to our whole terrain. Off the trail is another name for the Way, and something off the trail is the practice of the wild.” (Snyder, 1990, p.154) One thing will lead to another. Many things will be moving you. Let go. Wandering is about a delighted and playful curiosity, a mortal wonder. It is about being true to your body and its awareness, not casting ahead with a thought of final destination. How can we know beyond ourselves if we’ve already abandoned the present? Finding a new rhythm, our own, our heartbeat is quintessential. In this day and age we must be adaptive. We must address the outer world and listen to it in order to regain balance. The only way to breach the parts of us that are abandoning is to take our wandering lessons from that which pleads to us for help through disappearing languages, through the animals and landscapes in our dreams, through what is being forgotten. True wandering puts us back into an intimate grieving perspective with the earth, back into this necessary praise, this kinship, this mirroring nature.

4th Arrow: The wandering psyche shows its face in Fisher’s hermeneutics, Hillman’s knight errant, the watercourse way of Taoism, Shepard’s Pleistocene Paradigm, Chatwin’s nomadic alternative and Chalquist’s Terrapsychology. A wandering psyche is a more accurate reflection of ecology. As we have fragmented the land and its residents (segregated wolf populations, gated communities, the otherside of the tracks) so we have thrown up boundaries in our own psyche. Reconnection is vital so a being can move poetically, carrying the singing weapons of metaphor, traveling the hearts songlines, bridging narrow professions, bringing countries to council through the mariners navigation, and dreams to life on the Night-Mares back…these are some of the meandering arts. “This the rogue errant can teach—psychological survival.” (Hillman, 1976, p.162) And given this age’s stressors of ecological degradation, nuclear capacity, overpopulation and war…psychological survival is perhaps the first line of defense and offense, the ecological mediator.

And as tension builds along our fault lines, we snap, and earthquakes make us tremble…as climactic change flushes our temperatures fevering the ice sheets into cold sweat, our fear calves off plunging us into the depths…as population increases and has us feeling constrained, our psyche’s are overcrowded and claustrophobic. The only way to reveal the denial in us is to match our imagination with that of the Earth’s. The wandering psyche is about realigning an imagination, extending it beyond the shadows of ourselves into what we have forgotten. It’s about returning from the Lethe, this river of oblivion. The wandering psyche has us constantly moving away from the binding of literalness, seeking the extensional depths and the allurement of many beings, human and Other-wise. We may be viewed as suspect terrain but our vision and visionaries not only have to grow, they also have to focus themselves and embody in practicality; they have to act and enter the world as mythic storytellers, touchable archetypes, communal initiators, and underworld guides. The wandering psyche has to praise the not so normal by overcoming alienations, risking being changed, and alowing creativity (Fisher, 2002, p.36). And where are we mirrored by this but through the ecology of the earth itself, the undefined elemental language that has us swept up in bewilderment, awe and fear. So though we have already gone far with our heads, this consciousness needs to bleed back into our bodies like hemorrhaging, hissing lava flows to coagulate, heal, harden into the igneous bedrock of our being. This consciousness must learn to walk and roam, ramble and stride, call out and be called to. The trick becomes deepening into what a modern true wandering might look like on many different levels given the myriad and multitude of cultures. Disconnected wandering has led us to this border and now we must step across the threshold. These unknown lessons are buried like caches within our bodies and it takes a remembering through places, people, and others to uncover them. That they are start appearing now shows we are in times of great need.

So this wandering psyche, though innate, needs to be initiated by intent. Intention. In tension. An ancient rite was enacted on the Greek island of Samothrakai that Hillman believes had to do with initiating wandering, this pothos of longing and nostalgia. “The heiron of Samothrokai was sacred to the Dioskuri because of shipwrecks and for the protection of sailors. It was, in other words, a haven for wanderers, if one could enter into some relationship with ‘pothos’, there was protection against shipwreck.” (Hillman, 1975, p.55) And “Not all those who wander are lost.” (Tolkein, 1954, p. 186) Perhaps, wanderers are balancing out a societal rootedness by following an unbearable desire, that unfelt or denied, has our hearts numb, green with envy, our bodies awkward, immobile in front of the nightly news, avoiding displays of emotion, drinking through the evenings as a tribal pact in slow suicide.

This wandering psyche is about our deepest longing and nostalgia for that which has been lost. Ecological grief. This grief at our loss of senses: deep listening, erotic touch, sensitive taste, instinctual scent, and night vision, this seeing through the dark. Like old Taoist sages, our minds must be unshackled, left to wander in wild reverie, alone and preparing for what was once considered a sweet death. Free to sip the air and eat the clouds, speak with water and caress the earth. We must link the fragmented archipelago of ourselves and the world back together by our quiet, playful movements in tandem with finding others. We might just open new pathways, as if wandering could be a human form of pollination, a bearing of fertile dismemberment, a recollection of the fourteen pieces of Osiris with our Isis infused love…there Annubis weighing feathers against ripe hearts when we die…the lightness of the True Wanderer. The beauty of the wayward weep.

5th Arrow: Though I’ve been backgrounding the wandering psyche with Greek myth and geography, and steeped it in native metaphor, the wandering psyche is very much alive today, most particularly in Native Cultures who have guarded and kept up with the old ways. Since these cultures are marginalized, the mainstream tends to be eclipsed from their actual reality. A friend who has worked with many of these cultures being part native herself said to me via email: “They do not speak the language you are using, not technical, not published, not even necessarily documented, it is in the way of how they relate to living. There work probably informs all the others…” What I am inadequately calling ‘wandering activism’ is nothing new. People have been carrying on this incredibly important work through many generations. Today within The Spiritual Elders Network and the Sacred Earth Network native cultures from all over the world are coming together in council, difficult if not impossible before the modern era of traveling. “The work is pure and about reconnecting elders and pathways throughout and across Turtle Island. There are a lot of ceremonies I could tell you about. Some were re-walking, re-connecting land and pathways from nomadic days. Some re-riding the Trail of Tears and grief events to heal the tribes. The Unity Ride to heal Wounded Knee. Some to re-open huge land based ‘highways’ that connect large old (like thousands of years now) cities to others in South America. Like Chaco and Cahokia.” To see what is actually occurring can turn a blind eye, and perhaps, the tide, not to mention all that is occurring within these cultures that we do not see or understand.

As to more mainstream attempts, there are many cropping up. Dave Foreman’s visionary idea is grounded into ecological practice and called The Wildlands Project”. Through the simultaneous work of conservation biology and staying true to wandering psyche, he has glimpsed and borne and ideal, enacting vision. The Wildlands Project is Foreman’s self admitted “totally audacious dream”. (Jensen, 2002, p.13) In his hard acknowledgment that existing North American wilderness are really fragmented high altitude islands, and in understanding that animal populations are continually being cut off from each other thereby reducing genetic diversity which is inherently the survival of any species, he has unearthed a frightening truth. From his decade of environmental policy working in Washington D.C., his co-founding of Earth First! and his editing of a journal entitled The Wild Earth, he has walked many worlds, wandered some terrain, been a link between some extremely opposed groups. Now, the Yukon to Yellowstone, (Y2Y) this breadth of the Rocky Mountain terrain is the seed of his vision. Through the countless and individual ways of grass roots organizations, through land conservation, wild animal reintroduction, eco systems being related to the actual ecology, etc…. the reconnection of the Rocky Mountains through biological corridors is being accomplished. Across international boundaries, the vision has put, many people into action. Three thousand miles of reconnection, looking at least three generations ahead. Working with ranchers, environmentalists and aligning many people into a common cause is a result of this audacious dream that is fifteen years old. This particular project is a perfect mirror, an image of the wandering psyche. The Wildlands Project then, is also about relinking a wild imagination with our civilization’s imagination.

Beyond this there are many other projects. Craig Chalquist's Terrapsychology creates a pathway into interacting with particular places. Randy Morris at Antioch University in the Northwest is taking classes into traumatized places on the land, doing three-day dream incubations, which inform the communal ceremony to be enacted for that land. The Permaculture Movement and Natural Builders (Builders without Borders, Canelo Project, One World Design) to the multifaceted trainings such as Starhawk’s Earth Activist Training, are a form of wandering activism. There is also the necessary direction of body movement with the natural world, (Dancing Wilderness Project, Body Cartography, Contact Improvisation) which specifically attends to human movement with places in the wild or cities that allows a reciprocal mirroring to occur. There is also much cultural/ecological mediation between native cultures and industrial cultures such as with the more nomadic Thailand Hill Tribes. The trajectory of wandering activism is alive and flying and is led by the land. It is about following and trusting the soul of the world, the wisdom that is in the terrain. To avoid shipwreck we mist honor these movements…and track our longing, follow it to get closer to our desire.

6th Arrow: “We cannot join the ancestral dead in their finely tuned ecology. But because we have never left our genome and its authority, the strategic nature of the past is born within us. We have only to recognize that our genome and we ourselves are Pleistocene.” (Shepard, 1998, p.154) While Shepard makes the argument in depth about the capacity of the hunter/gatherer wisdom, we must include the other extreme as well: technology. The advantage we have in our modernity is the technological wizardry that is at our fingertips. Our initiation belongs to it. We can now stay together connected by cell phones and the Internet…this may be the very thing allowing a wandering communities modern creation. These give us the negotiating power with the civilization that exists. Eventually, can we turn a feral technologies attention to be in service towards an earth? Technology has devastated much of the land in tandem with human hands, horrible trauma that is creeping up on us, haunting us through unpredictable elements and unforeseen consequences. It has acted so quickly and fiercely. But it is in this specific speed and power, turned the right way, enabled by a wandering psyche that a re-linking, an ecological renaissance could occur. In a way we can’t imagine. But in order to even wander into this sort of vitalizing technology we must do it through a roaming communal move and practice, increasingly re-braided to terra, flora, fauna, and climate, abiding places with our subtle bodies, allowing them our ears, hearts and voices.

If ownership was not so defended and our fear of intimacy so guarded imagine how the intelligence of a moving body of intentional people could, in effect, produce a different form of change. Is this possible? The wandering (physically and psychologically) of these groups is crucial, ecologically speaking, as the land knows how to heal itself. We must be of service to it. Listening deeply into it. Land speaks to each person in a unique way. Mirroring is a personal affair. A Council of All Beings.

So, when it comes to wandering community, I do not mean we gather up and roam in a disconnected way. It can’t happen without a specific ecological intent. It can’t happen without a certain initiation through longing, it can’t happen from within ourselves. It seems that such an ideal could only enable itself if it was called forth from outward and the Other. This means a wandering community, now, is one which is learning to listen, getting back into their bodies, moving in simpler ways of being that don’t distract us from the silence that speaks. If a wandering community doesn’t follow its own authenticity then it will probably not be ecologically sound. A wandering community must find its own way, weave into its particular truths, and walk this strange hinterland not ever quite knowing what will be asked next. The gracefulness of our ancestry, led by a dream, born by a dream, carried by the dreaming body is in each of us. Indigenous hearts and native souls.

7th Arrow: These words have been a quick and dirty ramble with an intent in mind: to try and glimpse the heart of a way that has been lost. Through this striding I hope to have sparked something and opened you up to a few strange views. To speak an imagination or an ideal is always a vulnerable task, and perfection is not the aim. I do believe our Hunter/Gatherer heritage with our agrarian expertise, our industry and technological prowess…all this braided together into a continent of longing, an ocean of being, is a possibility for a surviving species and a sustaining ecology. We are now just beginning to experience the ecological repercussions of our modern lifestyle and the land is calling for a certain sense of wandering to pull our unknowing back together through imagination. Our psyches must roam to outlandish territories, search for what has been forgotten, and return home. Fare well.


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