A dance student with long, flowing auburn hair, she had a flair for music, art — virtually anything imaginative.
Sometimes she would weed in the garden with my mom or help with chores, and other times she kept us kids occupied with games of magic and make-believe while the grownups were busy with other things. Jennifer was probably 18 years old, but to me, she seemed all-knowing and possessed of unusual powers — like something out of a fairy tale. So when she came to my room one very early morning (the sky was still pitch black) and gently woke me, I saw her smile and I sensed instantly that an important adventure was afoot.
After quietly rounding up my sisters, she led all of us, still in our nightgowns, up the big tractor road to the fields that stood at the top of our farm’s biggest hill. Once there, we all held hands, sang songs and did a little circle dance in the dew-covered high grass. It was elating, a fun yet beautiful ritual of kids left to their natural devices.
Even in the early dawn light, my vision felt sharp, my hearing was keen. I felt every finger and toe tingling. The sopping wet hem of my nightgown felt cool and smooth against my ankles. I felt, perhaps more than anything, a sense of being deeply and entirely alive, and undeniably in touch with something bigger than me — with the sacred.
We couldn’t have been up on that hill for more than a half-hour or so before the birds began chirping. And then, with the sun just coming up, we traipsed back down the hill, wiped our sandy feet and climbed happily back into our beds before anyone else was awake.
It was great fun, of course, and also one of the most extraordinary experiences of my childhood.
To this day, when I am sitting alone on a rock in the Boundary Waters or standing in the moonlight looking up at the stars above our farm, I remember the magic of that early morning adventure decades ago and feel connected — to the natural world, and also to my own sense of wildness.
I think this connection to the wild and natural parts of ourselves — and simultaneously to the sense of something larger than ourselves — is an essential component of living healthily, happily and well.
In her bestselling book, Women Who Run With the Wolves (Ballantine Books, 2003), Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD, writes about the “wild woman” archetype and of the deep longing most modern-day women have to reforge their physical, intuitive and metaphysical connections with it. And in his bestselling book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nelson Books, 2001), author John Eldredge addresses how much men (and Christian men, in particular) stand to gain by connecting with their wild, adventurous and instinctive sides, too. Both these writers argue, convincingly, for a reclaiming of our wild selves and for how that reclaiming might benefit us in a deep way — not just individually, but collectively.
My sense is that in this modern, busy, sanitized and industrialized world, most of us could benefit from more time in nature, in adventure, in mystery, and from being more in touch with our deepest sense of what matters.
Whether you decide to let just a little everyday adventure in around the edges, or you choose to throw open the doors to a full-fledged wilderness expedition, I hope this issue of Experience Life helps you connect with whatever part of you wants to head out, break free and try something just a little different.
And if you don’t know quite where to start, try waking yourself, your partner or your kids for a little predawn adventure. Even if all you do is sit and watch the sun come up, I’m guessing it will be a magical morning that none of you will soon forget.