The human need to be in touch with wild nature is inherent in us. That need is often masked, but with just a little probing, it’s there for all to see. Our vacations are almost always to some place in the world that is beautiful—and that beauty is often defined by some feature of the wild world: the ocean, mountains, desert, rivers, forests. Even when those trips take us to huge cities, they often are built in or near one of these features of the world’s wildness.
Human beings who work and live in urban spaces find ways to keep some trace of wild nature in our midst: a potted plant in an office full of cubicles and fluorescent lights; a window box in an apartment with no view other than the next apartment building; an African violet sitting on the window sill over the kitchen sink; a ficus tree in a living room in the concrete and steel jungle of a major city. We find our ways to be in touch with the wild, growing world of plants, trees and animals. We are fascinated by photographs and movies that include animals of all kinds, and feline and canine family members are, among other things, domesticated reminders that we belong to the whole world.
Ancient peoples knew that even as they carved their urban spaces out of the wild world, they continued to need some reminder of the wild world even there. Religious shrines and temples would be surrounded by a grove of trees on the edge of the urban center. That was the go-to place to reconnect with the wild world and the gods of the wild world. One such place was the Temple of Vesta in ancient Rome. The circular temple housed the eternal flame of Vesta which energized Rome with her life force. The Vestal priestesses tended that flame and all it meant to Rome. In the earliest of days, the temple was surrounded by a grove of oak trees. Urban sprawl and encroachment are not new, and soon, some of that grove had to be cut down for expansion of the City Center. Over the centuries, the grove became smaller and smaller until at one point, one single oak tree was left of the grove of Vesta. Just like the single flame inside the temple, Romans considered that as long as one tree was left, they were still in touch with the wild and sacred aspect of the world.
Where do you reach out to and restore your communion with the wild world? What sorts of things are crowding and encroaching on that experience for you? Let us find a moment today to acknowledge those touching places and those encroachments. Doing so just might provide an unexpected renewal for us.