Essential Elements by Jesse Wolf Hardin
A lyrical and personal piece by partner, Jesse Wolf Hardin, on the inextricable relationship between ourselves and the elements. Experiential, vibrant and deeply necessary, Wolf’s piece reminds us to expand our awareness out from out individual bodies into the larger body of the inspirited earth, to cultivate a sensorial awareness and to notice the preciousness of every single second of our vital, beautiful lives!
It is midday as I take a break from writing and step away from the worn keys and glowing screen, the creeping July heat speaking to my body and needs in a way that reasonable thoughts never could. The same burning sun and swelling temperatures that inspire my walk to the river, seem each afternoon to summon forth the dark thunder-clouds of the Southwest’s monsoon season. The river is at its most shallow this time of year, barely calf height in some places, and so I make my way to the one broad, deep pool supported by a latticework beaver dam. By the time I get there and strip off my clothes, the day’s first rain begins to fall on on my bared shoulders, and I’m no longer hot but chilled by the persistent canyon winds. It proves warmer in the river as I submerge, and internal discourse comes to a sudden halt as I am not only touched but seemingly filled by the attention-getting sensation of water hugging every inch of my body, its gentle currents stroking sensitized skin the way a cat might rub against a willing leg. I lower myself until the surface of the river laps just below the level of ears and nose, a child-learned technique for best hearing the enchanting, bell-like sounds that raindrops falling into pool or river make. And like a child, I tilt my head and open my mouth in order to drink in the blessed moisture falling from the both blue and gray sky.
On the way back, I enjoy the fertile and fruity smells of freshly dampened earth, and my bare feet revel in its rain-softened feel. This is the ground we not only live on but with and through, regularly gathering and eating the wild greens that erupt from and are sustained by its rich volcanic soils, and collecting for our stoves any dying tree branches that this stretch of earth provides. The trail leading to our cabin climbs steeply away from the river, and my increased need for oxygen has me breathing heavy, noticing more than usual how good it feels to stretch and feed my lungs, consciously sharing atmosphere with all that lives or has ever lived, exchanging gases with green growing beings in a mutually beneficial gifting cycle. I’ve cooled down enough by this point, that I can enjoy the heat coming off the cookstove as I add wood to its box, and celebrate not only its bark-licking flames but the fires of creativity, of passion, of burning life itself.
As full time residents of the remote Animá wildlife sanctuary and teaching center, our lives are by necessity closely entwined with the elements. Two miles and seven river crossings from the nearest propane station or electric power line, we depend on the fires we burn as well as the fires of the sun to power our satellite internet connection, computers, sweet music and much needed L.E.D. lights, as well as to warm our cabins in winter and cook our food year round. It is the earth where we’re housed and walk that provides much of our food, that is a source of our insights, and that very literally “grounds” us in self, place and purpose. The omnipresent winds shape the land’s character as well as its creature and human inhabitants, no less than they shape these cliffs and rocks, and while there are some who find them tiring, they are for me invigorating, a body of palpable air not just connecting me to all that is or supplying those crucial oxygen molecules, but somehow pumping me with other levels of energy, inspiration and impetus. Likewise, we are dependent on the giftings of the clouds for the water we drink, that we wash our dishes with and fill our wood heated outdoor tub. The immense diversity and intense fecundity of our sanctuary is thanks not only to our protection and faithful plantings, choice elevation and overlapping life zones, but to the rare rain and spring fed river that winds its way through it. And as a natural healer, my partner Kiva has to regularly consider someone’s elemental balance, such as a paucity or excess of “water,” or a need for certain earthen minerals.
What is not only unavoidable but obvious and illustrative in our wilderness based lifestyle, may sometimes be less noticed or deeply experienced in town but remains no less real and true. Even in the most urban environment with air conditioned buildings and thermostatic controls, with all food coming from a grocery store and grown in places unknown, we are both part and product of the basic elements. We are all bodies primarily made up of water, the chlorinated and the oft-recycled liquid issuing forth from apartment shower heads was first pooled in blood-salt seas, siphoned skyward and dearly distilled by a fortunately irresistible sun, and delivered via cloud transport on the winds I revel in. It’s not only possible but desirable to connect deeper with each of the elements in our lives, prizing and conserving water, gathering rain like a pirate even where it is legislatively frowned upon, voting to protect mountain watersheds, getting intimate with it by swimming in it at every chance, ingesting it straight and not just in tea, coffee or pop even if it has to be bottled. By staying tuned to even the slightest movement in the air, we sense not only approach but oneness and continuance. Being more conscious of our breath can help calm and center us. Noticing the pace, depth or shallowness of our breathing can serve as valuable biofeedback drawing attention to what is triggering our feelings, fears, excitement or desire. Noticing how the air feels when we take it in, can be a reality check regarding its purity, and motivation to become an activist against its continuing pollution.
You may have heard or read about what some call the essential elements of a gourmet recipe, a novel or painting. In the same way, the natural elements are not only the primary, basic components from which all else is built, but also the features and the spirit providing for, empowering and helping to define our art-full, whole and healthful natures.
All photos (c) 2009 Kiva Rose