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Author Topic: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs  (Read 608 times)

Eastling

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Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« on: July 28, 2017, 11:04:26 pm »
The current circumstances of my life have me wondering about the place of "the wilderness"--as physical locations and also as a set of ideas conceived by humans--in modern neopagan practice.

Over the past year and a half, while living on my own in the suburbs of Seattle, I've developed an eclectic personal practice. One of the cornerstones of this practice is my "hidden shrine"--a small outpost between my apartment complex and an overgrown lot that I use as a shrine to Hekate and other Powers. I go into more detail in the post linked about the meaning of that specific shrine, but one of its key features is that it marks a boundary between orderly areas inhabited by human beings and the ignored, unexamined wilderness. In my practice, that wilderness symbolizes a liminal space between here and the underworld/otherworld, which is very important as a symbol.

In less than two months, I'm hoping to move into the city of Seattle itself. I've been to the new apartment and had a look at its location--right on the waterfront, in the middle of downtown. This is wonderful to me--I've always wanted to live in the middle of a thriving city. But now that I'm working with this concept of "wilderness" as a meaningful liminal space, it poses a problem for me. There are no overgrown lots or lonely backroads here on the edge of multiple tourist traps in the heart of a major city of the Pacific Northwest.

So how do I adapt my practice to my new circumstances? I have a few ideas, but I'd like to see what others on the board have to say. More generally, how does working with wilderness, in whatever way you conceptualize it, figure into your practice, if it does? How have you had to adapt because of that?
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2017, 01:23:04 am »


In less than two months, I'm hoping to move into the city of Seattle itself. I've been to the new apartment and had a look at its location--right on the waterfront, in the middle of downtown. This is wonderful to me--I've always wanted to live in the middle of a thriving city. But now that I'm working with this concept of "wilderness" as a meaningful liminal space, it poses a problem for me. There are no overgrown lots or lonely backroads here on the edge of multiple tourist traps in the heart of a major city of the Pacific Northwest.

Any golf courses? The "rough" on the outskirts of many golf courses can make a habitat for wildlife and a passable substitute for wilderness.

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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2017, 09:58:46 pm »
The current circumstances of my life have me wondering about the place of "the wilderness"--as physical locations and also as a set of ideas conceived by humans--in modern neopagan practice.
...
So how do I adapt my practice to my new circumstances? I have a few ideas, but I'd like to see what others on the board have to say. More generally, how does working with wilderness, in whatever way you conceptualize it, figure into your practice, if it does? How have you had to adapt because of that?

I've had the exact same problem as you do several years ago. I lived in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, and frequented the local woods as a place to ground, meditate, and converse with the spirits of the woods. But then I moved to NYC and I'm still trying to adjust, even after 6 years. To me, there are no more true wilderness areas because humans have made such deep and widespread impacts that you can't escape it (well, save going to space or another planet).

That said, this is what I can offer: look for the places in parks where people rarely go (mind you, keep safety in mind), and note what times areas are empty or without many people. That's how I've worked with a local park near me. I actually used to go to this one spot with a big boulder on a rarely used path and light up my incense and one small candle (with a big bottle of water near by just in case) and meditate. Had to stop that practice after awhile because people started to use the path more often.

As for working with wilderness, I make it a point to incorporate wilderness in two ways into my life: I go to it and I bring it into my household. For example, I just came back from a vacation in St Thomas, and I made it a point to do activities that were focused on the local flora and fauna of that area - ecotours, snorkeling, the likes - and really got a good sense of the area. Here at home, I try to make it a point to go into the woods and the beaches to acquaint myself with them. On the other hand, I also make it a point to bring it into my apt - I have a lot of potted plants, several pets (bunnies, snakes, and fish) and more.

Going into working it into my craft - I'm restarting that finally after graduating with my masters. This is where I think you'll need to really examine your rituals and worships and see how you can incorporate local flora and maybe fauna into them, while still working within the law. For example, maybe on a beach walk, you come across driftwood or a skeleton. How could you incorporate them into yoru work?
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2017, 10:32:06 pm »
To me, there are no more true wilderness areas because humans have made such deep and widespread impacts that you can't escape it (well, save going to space or another planet).

I'd already shared this (long, but IMO worth the time) article with East well before he made the thread, so I didn't add it here before, but I am now because I think you'll find it interesting, TGW: The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.

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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2017, 12:12:20 am »
More generally, how does working with wilderness, in whatever way you conceptualize it, figure into your practice, if it does? How have you had to adapt because of that?

I find the best way to "work with wilderness", is to just go out into wilderness and immerse myself in it.

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Ancient religious culture of Mesopotamia and Abrahamism was born of the desert, and experienced deeply by desert dwelling people.  Despite those things' roots in the Middle East (as opposed to my roots in the western USA), the religions of Mesopotamia and Abrahamism contain many elements that I have utilized to strengthen my own connection to the deserts here.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2017, 09:20:44 am »
I'd already shared this (long, but IMO worth the time) article with East well before he made the thread, so I didn't add it here before, but I am now because I think you'll find it interesting, TGW: The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.

However much one may be attracted to such a vision [of sacred wilderness], it entails problematic consequences. For one, it makes wilderness the locus for an epic struggle between malign civilization and benign nature, compared with which all other social, political, and moral concerns seem trivial.

This. Exactly this. I've recently finished an amazing book called Braiding Sweetgrass. It's by Robin Wall Kimmerer who is a professor of biology at the SUNY Forestry school and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. Early in the book she describes a conversation with her students where she asked them about their understanding of negative human interactions with the environment and they could produce a long list. She asked them about their understanding of positive interactions and the vast majority couldn't think of any. She talks a lot in the book about her own and her ancestors' practices of reciprocal relationship with land and the mutually beneficial effects of these interactions. Her writing is one of the most evocative reminders I've come across that human beings are part of nature (and need to remember that if we are to re-build a better way of interacting with the rest of creation).

Quote from: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, p6
I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day - brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl - truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?

She also talks a lot about the role of ceremony and spiritual relationship with land as a means of recognizing and participating in that reciprocity. It's a truly amazing book (the sort where I got to the end and immediately turned back to the first page to read through it again) and I would particularly recommend it for anyone who's religious practice is at all nature-based.

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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2017, 11:34:30 am »
So how do I adapt my practice to my new circumstances? I have a few ideas, but I'd like to see what others on the board have to say. More generally, how does working with wilderness, in whatever way you conceptualize it, figure into your practice, if it does? How have you had to adapt because of that?

Like TheGreenWizard, I live in NYC, the U.S.'s biggest metropolis, so working with wilderness in the traditional, macro sense (vast expanses of nature *seemingly* untouched by humans) is tough. As he suggests, I have spots early in the morning in Central Park where, crowded as that park gets, I can have solitude or near solitude with nature around me. And also as mentioned, I bring a simulacrum of wilderness to me: I'm lucky enough to have a garden (a rare commodity in NYC), and it's deliberately designed to replicate in microcosm the wilds of the nearby Catskill Mountains, planted mostly with natives of the area that mask the city around me a bit and pull in the local fauna. (The cheesy fake-stone fountain that stands in for a mountain stream is made slightly less cheesy by stones gathered from the Catskills that I've used around it to integrate it into the gardenscape.) Even a tiny terrace can achieve that effect, or, as already suggested, plants brought indoors.

But I think the key is what Sunflower and others already talked about, and that you touched on in your very question: How do you conceptualize wilderness? Even, say, a remote Canadian area in the far north where humans have never trod has indeed been changed by humans (via global warming). So one thing I do is recognize that this city is part of nature, as an ant colony is part of nature, or a beaver pond; sure, it's heavily shaped by the activities of one species, but it's still an integral part of the whole. And anyone who thinks NYC is just rats and pigeons is clueless about our role on the Atlantic flyway of migratory birds, the fact that this city is a bunch of islands that makes us a vast coastal habitat, or that in the midst of our dense buildings you can look up and see peregrine falcons angrily dive bombing red-tailed hawks and this is not some super-weird occurrence but just *ordinary.*

Finally, I try to connect with *myself* as wilderness: Like every other living thing on this planet, I am home to a vast array of microorganisms, some helpful (or essential), some benign, and some (hopefully very few) harmful, but all part of the natural context of which we're a part. Once you tune in to nature on a micro level--insects and spiders and bacteria, etc.--wilderness is inescapable.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2017, 11:51:10 am »
She talks a lot in the book about her own and her ancestors' practices of reciprocal relationship with land and the mutually beneficial effects of these interactions. Her writing is one of the most evocative reminders I've come across that human beings are part of nature (and need to remember that if we are to re-build a better way of interacting with the rest of creation).


The idea that we need to learn ways to incorporate the local ecology and our fellow species into our heavily human-influenced environments (as opposed to only setting aside "untouched" areas for the preservation of species) is something that I've heard from several quarters recently, and I'm coming to terms with it myself. I admit, even with a pagan mindset and an awareness that we're an integral part of nature, I still am one of those who has a hard time conceiving of our activities as anything but harmful to the planet. I should read the book.

A great success story is how farmers in the West used data on when migratory birds would reach their area (much of it provided by the observations of ordinary citizens) to know when to flood their unused fields, to create a temporary habitat to aid migrating waterfowl as they passed through. Truly awesome win-win.

https://thinkprogress.org/california-rice-farmers-rent-crucial-pop-up-wetlands-for-migrating-birds-98b050b49516
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2017, 04:08:53 pm »

Any golf courses? The "rough" on the outskirts of many golf courses can make a habitat for wildlife and a passable substitute for wilderness.

No golf courses on the Seattle waterfront, I'm afraid. The closest thing to a similar "habitat for wildlife" near the apartment is the Aquarium, a few blocks away. Which might be interesting if I need to talk to Powers related to the sea and its creatures...but is a little too orderly and contained to function as wilderness.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2017, 04:14:01 pm »
As for working with wilderness, I make it a point to incorporate wilderness in two ways into my life: I go to it and I bring it into my household. For example, I just came back from a vacation in St Thomas, and I made it a point to do activities that were focused on the local flora and fauna of that area - ecotours, snorkeling, the likes - and really got a good sense of the area. Here at home, I try to make it a point to go into the woods and the beaches to acquaint myself with them. On the other hand, I also make it a point to bring it into my apt - I have a lot of potted plants, several pets (bunnies, snakes, and fish) and more.

Going into working it into my craft - I'm restarting that finally after graduating with my masters. This is where I think you'll need to really examine your rituals and worships and see how you can incorporate local flora and maybe fauna into them, while still working within the law. For example, maybe on a beach walk, you come across driftwood or a skeleton. How could you incorporate them into yoru work?

This can be a useful way to look at it--you can bring wilderness into your own home as well as observe it outside. I've already talked to my potential roommate about the possibility of putting together some small potted gardens on our back patio. Maybe also keep some plants inside that the cats won't try to eat too much. ;) I'd love to keep a snake someday, too, though I don't know if this is the place for it.

But I do think you're right that even in the heart of a city, there may be places to incorporate as wilderness into ritual.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2017, 04:15:47 pm »
This. Exactly this. I've recently finished an amazing book called Braiding Sweetgrass. It's by Robin Wall Kimmerer who is a professor of biology at the SUNY Forestry school and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. Early in the book she describes a conversation with her students where she asked them about their understanding of negative human interactions with the environment and they could produce a long list. She asked them about their understanding of positive interactions and the vast majority couldn't think of any. She talks a lot in the book about her own and her ancestors' practices of reciprocal relationship with land and the mutually beneficial effects of these interactions. Her writing is one of the most evocative reminders I've come across that human beings are part of nature (and need to remember that if we are to re-build a better way of interacting with the rest of creation).

She also talks a lot about the role of ceremony and spiritual relationship with land as a means of recognizing and participating in that reciprocity. It's a truly amazing book (the sort where I got to the end and immediately turned back to the first page to read through it again) and I would particularly recommend it for anyone who's religious practice is at all nature-based.

Thank you for the recommendation. It sounds like something I'd like to check out.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2017, 04:22:33 pm »
Like TheGreenWizard, I live in NYC, the U.S.'s biggest metropolis, so working with wilderness in the traditional, macro sense (vast expanses of nature *seemingly* untouched by humans) is tough. As he suggests, I have spots early in the morning in Central Park where, crowded as that park gets, I can have solitude or near solitude with nature around me. And also as mentioned, I bring a simulacrum of wilderness to me: I'm lucky enough to have a garden (a rare commodity in NYC), and it's deliberately designed to replicate in microcosm the wilds of the nearby Catskill Mountains, planted mostly with natives of the area that mask the city around me a bit and pull in the local fauna. (The cheesy fake-stone fountain that stands in for a mountain stream is made slightly less cheesy by stones gathered from the Catskills that I've used around it to integrate it into the gardenscape.) Even a tiny terrace can achieve that effect, or, as already suggested, plants brought indoors.

Oddly, I'm not sure I'd have as many problems adapting to NYC, because I grew up in its suburbs and have had a lot of time to explore it and see all the ways in which little bits of "wilderness" creep in. I haven't had that experience as much in Seattle yet, but I suppose it's reasonable to assume that "wilderness creeps in" there as well.

Making a garden to specifically mimic an environment isn't something I'd thought of before; that gives me reason to research local flora and see what would be appropriate for a garden. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the apartment does have a back patio which would be a good place for some potted gardens, and the climate of the Pacific Northwest is fairly mild. (There are palm trees around the apartment complex.) So I have some options.

Quote
But I think the key is what Sunflower and others already talked about, and that you touched on in your very question: How do you conceptualize wilderness? Even, say, a remote Canadian area in the far north where humans have never trod has indeed been changed by humans (via global warming). So one thing I do is recognize that this city is part of nature, as an ant colony is part of nature, or a beaver pond; sure, it's heavily shaped by the activities of one species, but it's still an integral part of the whole. And anyone who thinks NYC is just rats and pigeons is clueless about our role on the Atlantic flyway of migratory birds, the fact that this city is a bunch of islands that makes us a vast coastal habitat, or that in the midst of our dense buildings you can look up and see peregrine falcons angrily dive bombing red-tailed hawks and this is not some super-weird occurrence but just *ordinary.*

Finally, I try to connect with *myself* as wilderness: Like every other living thing on this planet, I am home to a vast array of microorganisms, some helpful (or essential), some benign, and some (hopefully very few) harmful, but all part of the natural context of which we're a part. Once you tune in to nature on a micro level--insects and spiders and bacteria, etc.--wilderness is inescapable.

Yes, I think this is probably the best way to look at it. I hadn't even considered what you mention towards the end there, that the human body is a wilderness in its own way, but that's an interesting way to look at it.

I've thought about things like trying to connect with the spirit/genius loci/daimon of the area when I get there, because I'm sure there's a well-developed one in a place like that; maybe they could give me some hints on what areas feel most like wilderness to them. This may mean a scrap of pier with a lot of fish around it, or an alleyway where the pavement is cracked and a lot of plants grow--or it may mean something else entirely.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2017, 06:47:28 pm »
No golf courses on the Seattle waterfront, I'm afraid. The closest thing to a similar "habitat for wildlife" near the apartment is the Aquarium, a few blocks away. Which might be interesting if I need to talk to Powers related to the sea and its creatures...but is a little too orderly and contained to function as wilderness.

A bit far for daily work, but you can catch the 33 to Discovery Park, which has a lot to offer.
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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2017, 07:44:59 pm »
Oddly, I'm not sure I'd have as many problems adapting to NYC, because I grew up in its suburbs and have had a lot of time to explore it and see all the ways in which little bits of "wilderness" creep in. I haven't had that experience as much in Seattle yet, but I suppose it's reasonable to assume that "wilderness creeps in" there as well.


I have only been to Seattle a few times, but I was surprised by how nice the parks and neighborhoods were. This is coming from someone that lives in a mountain town in Montana.

I also think there are some good hiking spots close. Seattle is probably one of the best places to blend "wilderness and city-life." I think the garden idea is good and very doable as well. Congratulations on the new move BTW!


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Re: Working with wilderness in cities and suburbs
« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2017, 10:50:06 pm »
The current circumstances of my life have me wondering about the place of "the wilderness"--as physical locations and also as a set of ideas conceived by humans--in modern neopagan practice.

Over the past year and a half, while living on my own in the suburbs of Seattle, I've developed an eclectic personal practice. One of the cornerstones of this practice is my "hidden shrine"--a small outpost between my apartment complex and an overgrown lot that I use as a shrine to Hekate and other Powers. I go into more detail in the post linked about the meaning of that specific shrine, but one of its key features is that it marks a boundary between orderly areas inhabited by human beings and the ignored, unexamined wilderness. In my practice, that wilderness symbolizes a liminal space between here and the underworld/otherworld, which is very important as a symbol.

In less than two months, I'm hoping to move into the city of Seattle itself. I've been to the new apartment and had a look at its location--right on the waterfront, in the middle of downtown. This is wonderful to me--I've always wanted to live in the middle of a thriving city. But now that I'm working with this concept of "wilderness" as a meaningful liminal space, it poses a problem for me. There are no overgrown lots or lonely backroads here on the edge of multiple tourist traps in the heart of a major city of the Pacific Northwest.

So how do I adapt my practice to my new circumstances? I have a few ideas, but I'd like to see what others on the board have to say. More generally, how does working with wilderness, in whatever way you conceptualize it, figure into your practice, if it does? How have you had to adapt because of that?


I agree with the others:

Cultivate the part of you that is still wild. 

If you're so near the water, that's wild too.  We can never tame the ocean.  Perhaps your nature work could center on the ocean and its infinite wilderness of uninhabitable space.

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