I’ve been hiking more this year than I have in previous years, partially due to my new wife and I exploring places we have both loved seperately for the first time together, and partially due to being out of town for work so much. When I have a few hours before or after work with nowhere else to go, I have been seeking the woods and the trail. Together and apart, Sam and I have wandered through canyons, strode through valleys, scrambled up ridges, and splashed through creek beds while we traveled along the path set out for us. We have explored together those wild places that human hands have left to their own devices, places where nature is the lead designer.
When I think about the wild places I have been through this year, I think of the time that has passed. Every year on my birthday, I replace my suddenly worn and weary watch with one that is fresh and new. I have been doing this for a while now, and this will be the 8th watch I have worn in as many years. It is a reset of sorts, a tool for self evaluation. As I carry this tradition forward, my time will eventually run out, and I hope to have a fine collection of watches to display at my funeral. Each watch will have it’s own story, and in that story pieced together from year sized slices, I hope that a remnant of the person I was while I walked the earth remains behind, eager to walk beside anyone willing to travel the road I traveled in life. Today, it strikes me that one year sized slice will be unwritten, but I guess there isn’t much to be done about that.
The wild places around us do not grow up overnight. Time passes to fully form them. Glaciers carve out paths through rock and soil, while streams continue the work when the glaciers have melted. A tree creates year sized slices of it’s own, each ring representing a year of growth. The carpet of fallen leaves melts into the forest floor, only to be covered by a freshly fallen carpet of color the next year. A tree outlives the squirrel that scampers over it’s branches, whilst the doe and fawn feed at it’s feet for a time. The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.
My life has been full of wild places, and full of places that have been tamed. Do not make the mistake of thinking that I despise a place that has been tamed. I enjoy the comforts of home, I enjoy the structures we live and work in. The rain knocking on the window beside me is better kept out than allowed to enter, in this moment. Structure and tameness are important parts of our lives, and this past year has found me developing these structures in my life to new levels. In the same way that wildness does not finish its work overnight, neither have these structures sprung up fully formed in the darkness of one moment.
This past year has brought a lot of new construction into my life. I am now a married man, a man who has so happily consented to building together a life with this one woman my heart has chosen. This structure will define the rest of my life forever. I finished a year of living in my car at the end of December. (An experiment of sorts that one day I may write more about.) I entered my third year of freedom from the bite of the snake. I have stepped into new roles at work, expanding my responsibilities into new places. I have made a serious commitment to eliminating the debt of consumerism and one-upmanship from my finances. These structures, these tame places, have not sprung up in one night, they have been the work of years, and some of these structures will take the work of a lifetime to complete. I will seek to continue the taming of my heart in the year that follows, each tick of this new watch a milestone on the path I walk. I will pursue the completion of structures placed not on sand, but on the solid rock of Christ who ultimately leads me from point to point. I will blaze a new trail in the year that comes, creating a tame place in the wildness on both sides that I may travel upon.
I will not always build these trails correctly the first time. Each trail will endure constant renovation and rebirth. It will be a struggle to complete the vision set in front of me. The struggle will require the clearing of thorns from the path in front of me. The leveling of ground that lies unevenly at my feet will break my back as I move shovel after shovel of dirt to a new and different place. Taming certain areas will be hard work in this new year of life, as it was hard work in the year that has just past. The trail I build will be the legacy of my life.
The wild places in us do not grow up over night. They must be protected and given a chance to grow. As much as I speak of creating a trail in my life, I want even more to cultivate certain areas of wildness in me. I must set borders on those areas, but if allowed to grow in the proper place and time, the wild in me will birth a beauty that no human mind can plan. The wild and the trail live together in harmony. They form each other. Without the trail, the beauty of the wild would not be seen, would not be experienced. Without the wild, the trail has no where to explore, no new thing to see.
As I step into this new year, I look forward to developing the trail in front of me. As I build, I will seek out the beauty in the wild that grows within me.